The Tenant

The Tenant is a fantastic paranoid delusion of a film. A Roman Polanski production in every sense as he starred, directed and co-wrote the screenplay. This is a slowly building and genuinely chilling film which creates an almost unbearable feeling of tension.

Polanski plays Trelkovsky, a timid Polish file clerk living in Paris. We join him in his search for an apartment as he arrives at an ugly old building. He is shown around a recently vacated apartment; the previous tenant threw herself from the balcony, and Trelkovsky is told he can have it if she dies. The early seeds of tension are scattered here and he cannot resist visiting the girl in hospital. This leads to a chilling scene in which the girl dies before his very eyes while screaming hysterically. He moves into her apartment the next day.

Trelkovsky in his apartment

Polanski´s direction is brilliant as always, he doesn´t rush anything here allowing the characters to go about their business and subtly building in a growing sense of unease. The setting is realistic; the fear built around things which are on the surface ordinary or explainable, but can given the right treatment, become very frightening. His playing around with the sense of perspective in some scenes is amazingly well done without the benefit of special effects, a combination of inventive camera angles and zooms and incredible editing which gives the over-used phrase spine-chilling some real meaning.

This film is full of shock moments and builds to an incredible twisted revelation at the end and I can´t discuss it further without revealing too much so if you haven´t seen it yet then don´t read on.

The apartment block is full of sinister characters and things begin to wrong for Trelkovsky almost immediately as there are complaints about the noise he is making from the neighbours. He is a quiet and private sort of guy with few meaningful connections to the rest of humanity and there is no-one to make him see sense as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the dead girl who used to live in his apartment and begins to lose his mind.

Polanski plays around with reality as we experience the world through the eyes of Trelkovsky, at times he reveals the difference between what is really happening and how the main character is interpreting events. The deep sense of dread builds to a climax which is maintained throughout the final half of the film, relieved only by the odd bout of black humour as Trelkovsky begins to dress up as the girl and his hallucinations get worse.

Trelkovsky and Stella

As with Rosemary´s Baby we are not sure how delusional the main character is, events could all be explained away without the need for supernatural happenings. This burning desire to figure out exactly what is happening to Trelkovsky keeps you completely immersed in the action and as he is a sympathetic character you almost hope that there is something magical and occult going on because the alternative is too terrible to imagine. We all know monsters aren´t real and the likelihood of a masked killer stabbing us to death is very low but the idea that you could go mad is true horror in the sense that it could happen to any of us and you may not even realise it was happening to you.

The cast is excellent, Polanski proves himself a very good actor, Isabelle Adjani does a great job with love interest Stella and Melvyn Douglas was especially chilling as Monsieur Zy. The sound throughout the film is also unsettling and jarring and it adds a lot to the tension in certain scenes.

As the plot unravels with Trelkovsky drowning in a sea of confusion and profound paranoia Polanski hits us with a terrifying conclusion. This film made me feel very unsettled and genuinely freaked in a way rarely achieved by movies. This is a raw and intense experience a nightmare journey into the unconscious. No need for terrifying scaly things with sharp claws here the real horror is all psychological; the thin line between reality and madness.


Reviewed by Simon Hill

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