A-Pix Entertainment presents
The 4th Floor (1999)
"THE WARNINGS ARE OVER"- an anonymous note
Stars: Juliette Lewis, William Hurt
Other Stars: Shelley Duvall, Tobin Bell, Artie Lange, Austin Pendelton
Director: Josh Klausner
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: 2000-07-11
DVD ReviewAt some point in our lives, we've probably had to live around neighbors or roommates we really didn't care for. You lie awake in bed entertaining fantasy visions of blowing them up or forcing them to watch Ishtar 100 times in a row. Of course, we usually have to put up with them in the end. In the case of Jane Emelin (Juliette Lewis) in The 4th Floor, her neighbor problem develops into a true nightmare that we should all be thankful we don't have.
Jane moves into an old apartment building where her aunt used to live, but died in a tragic accident. Excited with the prospect of having such a great place at such low rent, she doesn't think much about any consequences. Her boyfriend, Greg (William Hurt) is upset that she won't live with him, but he makes do. After moving in she discovers that her neighbors are very, very strange people. For starters, the woman who runs the building, Martha Stewart (Shelley Duvall), is obviously a bit goofy and the superintendent is a violent psychopath. Everyone else in the building has their own eccentricities as well, but the person living on the 4th floor never seems to answer her door or interact with the outside world. The only thing known about this woman, for the most part, is her name. Soon after getting comfortable, Jane starts being harassed by anonymous notes, vicious psychological attacks, and ominous noises. She suspects the mysterious tenant on the 4th floor as the culprit, but is unable to prove anything or find anything about this person. Eventually, things become darker as she soon suspects almost everyone around her of some strange deeds, and thinks that this 4th floor tenant is behind it all.
While there's a lot of good, spooky stuff going on here, the first thing that made me uncomfortable was the central casting. Namely, Juliette Lewis. I'll be completely honest here and admit that I think she's probably one of the worst actresses I've seen in action. I think she's talented, but only in certain roles and so far I've only seen that potential exploited in films like Natural Born Killers and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. In this film, she seems to switch between an extremely snide, nasty person and a timid, frightened one. This makes her performance very uneven and strange. While the story explains her insistence for wanting to live alone, despite her boyfriend's objections, it does not explain why she puts up with the horrors of the building instead of just moving somewhere else.
Director Josh Klausner certainly is skilled, which is made obvious by the incredible style and crafting here. However, the basic story is a flawed. For starters, the film feels like an uncomfortable mixture of Rear Window and, to lesser degrees, Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant (interestingly, both Roman Polanski works). There are very literal elements borrowed from these films, and because of this, many audience members will most likely figure out the ending, as well as other twists in the story, LONG before the film is over. It's not that the film is unoriginal, but it doesn't seem confident in its own skills to surprise and shock, and rather beats you over the head with clues as to the truth behind the 4th floor horrors. Despite all this, the film is pretty sharp. It has portions that are amazingly well written and taut, and it connects many things together very well. Also worthy of mention is the moody musical score that deepens the atmosphere.
Actors like William Hurt and Shelly Duvall are sadly underused, and manage to upstage Lewis in every scene they share. Austin Pendelton, who will probably be recognized by many viewers, gets a nice role as one of Jane's meek, nerdy neighbors. Somehow I think a heavier dose of the odd people surrounding her character would have had a much more disturbing effect on the movie, rather than her spending the majority of the film half-naked and panicked. Regardless, this is easily a likable, stylish horror film that will certainly make you think twice about getting that apartment you've always wanted, and the good portions easily cover up the bad ones.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||no|
Image Transfer Review: The dual layer disc presents a widescreen version and a full frame version. Both versions have a superb transfer with no compression problems. Black level is extremely precise and balanced, and colors are glowingly vivid. Considering the special cinematography and extreme darkness in many scenes, this excellent transfer is virtually required to reproduce the film accurately. The full frame version does lose some composition from the 1:85:1 version, so I recommend the widescreen over the full-frame.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is Dolby 5.0, and is a very rich track. While mostly front channel based, the surround speakers are used for a lot of ambient sound effects and to enhance the musical score. All of the on-screen action uses the front channels very well, and the audio is very immersing and directional. Dialogue is also very well balanced with the front left/right channels. Despite not having a specific LFE channel, the low-end bass gets handled very well, almost like a discreet channel itself.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Oxygen, Dance With The Devil, Let The Devil Wear Black
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Josh Klausner, Tricia Cooke, Timothy Galvin
Extras Review: The central feature of this disc is the extremely informative commentary track filled with production anecdotes by director Josh Klausner, editor Tricia Cooke, and production designer Timothy Galvin. It's also very casual and humorous at points, but it does concentrate on the film, for the most part, and remains scene specific as much as possible. It's definitely worth a listen for a deeper understanding behind the influences behind the film and the style they decided to take.
The alternate ending is not so much "alternate" as it is a different take on the same ending. Basically, the alternate version is simply a much longer version of the film's last moments, but I can see why it was cut.
A collection of trailers are included as well some decent bios on various cast and crew members. The presentation is rather nice, with some great animated menus (with 5.1 sound) and a fly-shaped cursor.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsDespite its rough spots, The 4th Floor definitely qualifies as a "sleeper" movie. That is, a film that never really got any serious attention from mainstream audience, but deserves modest success in the home video realm. The presentation is also worthy of some honors for A-Pix, to dress up this thriller with a nice transfer and effective commentary track. I have to laugh, though, when I read the back of the case which states 'Watch it with your roommate!' Somehow, I don't think that would be a very advisable. It's best not to give them any ideas. Recommended.
Dan Lopez 2000-08-24