Fantastic Fest 2014: Whispers Behind the Wall

Let’s lynch the landlady

Fantastic Fest 2014: Whispers Behind the Wall

It may have been made for television but this claustrophobic German import about a virginal law student and his leggy blonde landlord has style to burn. Equal parts Polanski and Lynch, with a hint of Hitch, makes for some creepily erotic thrills.

We first encounter Martin (Vincent Redetzki), a first-year law student who’s recently moved to Berlin, scruffed up and sleeping in his car. Student housing isn’t what it used to be in the big city, but soon enough a mysterious old man (Ronald Nitschke) offers him an affordable flat in a decent building on the cheap. Robert, the previous tenant has disappeared under mysterious circumstances and Martin can have the flat immediately if he consents to being photographed shirtless for the as-yet-unseen landlady. (If that’s not a signifier that things are about to get really twisted, I don’t know what is.) Martin awkwardly consents and in return gets not only the dingy space but also inherits all of Robert’s possessions, including the dirty dishes in the sink and the hidden diary in the armchair. Extreme voyeurism ensues.

Martin's landlady, Simone (Katharina Heyer, in a seriously fatalistic femme performance), turns out to be an erotic timebomb with looks that kill and a crazy boyfriend (Florian Panzner) who looks as though he’s dying to kill someone. It’s not long before the slinkily predatory Simone seduces the meek Martin, upping his sexual confidence while simultaneously planting the seeds of doubt in his head. What did become of that vanished prior renter after all?

Director Grzegorz Muskala makes the most of a virtually single-room story via some anxiety-inducing set- and sound-designs that practically scream “No vacancies in Hell.” The lurid, Argento-esque wallpaper and artworks in Simone’s flat are enough to drive anyone mad after a while, and Martin’s new home comes complete with a hidden passageway and paint the color of a consumptive’s snot. That’s all buoyed by a trio of top-notch performances from Redetzki, Panzner, and Almut Zilcher as a witchy next-door neighbor who looks as though she just returned from Rosemary’s baby’s de-christening.

Whispers in the Wall may have been shot on a shoestring budget, but Muskala and his crew make every dark corner and chip of peeling paint count. Even a fly making its exit from Martin’s flat to the unknown is downright spooky, and that’s no mean feat. Beware of landlady’s bearing gifts of bared breasts, or suffer the consequences.

Whispers Behind the Wall screens again Thursday, Sept. 25, 11am.

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Fantastic Fest 2014, Whispers Behind the Wall, Grzegorz Muskala

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