Geoff (Mark Matechuk) and Joanna (Tianna Nori) approach a four story walk-up ring the bell to announce that they are here about the sublet. The door opens and the couple with their newborn son enter the apartment to a note from the absentee owner. The key is in a drawer they can stay if they like the place but if not they must lock the door and leave right away. They decide to stay the noting that one room is locked and off limits. The narrative divides the story into parts each new chapter introduced with the start of a new week. In week one we learn that Joanna is suffering from postpartum depression, she sees herself as fat, does not want Geoff to touch her to initiate sex plus isolated spending all day in the apartment alone with the baby. Adding to her stress are strange creaking noises, knocking from above, next door and out in the hall.
One morning the door to the room that's off limits swings opens to reveal a nursery with framed photos of mothers and their newborns, along with a rocking chair and partly completed quilt. Joanna also finds a diary that she begins to read as she notices that her son Porter is very calm and happy when he is in the room. The diary tells the tale of a woman who lived in the apartment long ago, feeling trapped in an abusive relationship with her neglectful husband. Joanna is feeling some of those same emotions, as Geoff appears to be more concerned with his acting career than her considering their minimal interaction since they moved into the apartment.
Director and co-writer John Ainslie brings a new approach to a paranormal psychological story. The condition of postpartum depression plays a major role as does quizzical fact the couple uses a sugar bowl each day that was left in the apartment by a prior occupant. The viewer will wonder if the events as Joanna sees them are actually taking place. Joanna's depression is subtle at first but picks up in a jarring scene when Geoff invites his ex and colleague over for dinner without warning only adding to our central figure strong body image issues. Her psychological stresses continue to grow as she spends more time in the nursery, reads more of the journal beginning to loose gaps of time each day.
Black Fawn Muse Tianna Nori fits well as the heroine slowly loosing her mind with every additional moment spent in the apartment. She hears noises in places then goes to investigate only to find no one there. She thinks Geoff is cheating on her with no evidence, is convinced that the sugar she uses each morning is poisoned and seems to be the only one that sees a homeless woman hovering around the building. Mark Matechuck thrives as the self centred Geoff. He is well meaning but continues to make comments that push Joanna deeper into her postpartum depression. You can almost detect a hidden smirk as nudges Joanna further towards the cliff. He sees his partner loosing her grip but his only solution would bring her further from reality.
The Sublet is psychological horror story set in one location with a small tight cast. There are not a lot of jump scares or obvious monsters or villains around every corner. The writers take a direct look at the often neglected subject of postpartum depression coupled with a historical psychological storyline destined to repeat itself with each new occupant of the space. The small cast does not take a wrong step in their roles. It's a steady infusion of paranoia and loneliness that swells to a singular climatic act thats well worth a watch.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
The Sublet | John Ainslie | Canada | 2015 | 82 Minutes.
Tags: Postpartum Depression, Isolation, Diary, Abuse, Newborn, Nursery, Sugar, Running Lines, Homeless Woman, Creak, Knock.