Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Haylar Garcia
Writer: Kathryn Gould, Jim Brennan, Haylar Garcia
Producer: Betsy Leighton, Stephan Shelanski, Richard Turner, Jim Brennan, Haylar Garcia, Michael Haskins
Stars: Penelope Mitchell, Sally Kirkland, Chris Johnson, Kyle Gass, Han Soto, Graham Emmons, Susan Bellone, Elisa Vasquez
A young woman fleeing from an abusive relationship becomes cursed by a mysterious creature that bites her while she sleeps.
If “Gnaw” hadn’t changed its title to “Apartment 212,” I wouldn’t have looked at the address its leading lady types on her résumé, which actually lists her apartment as 205. That’s obviously a “no big deal” disconnect between a prop and a door plate. Oddly, it’s also inadvertently indicative of how Jennifer can’t get it together no matter how hard she tries.
Jennifer moved to apartment 205/212 to escape the trailer of her abusive ex-husband Boyd. She didn’t escape her hard luck or unfortunate upbringing though. A parking ticket can be blamed on being unable to unhitch the trailer that hauled her belongings. A blown job opportunity can be blamed on not knowing any better than to chew gum during her interview.
Jennifer means well, yet she fears she is doomed to spend her days slinging senior specials at a greasy spoon and nights taking the back of her beau’s hand. Credit actress Penelope Mitchell with putting plentiful affability into a personality that could have been a white trash trope. Instead, the optimism in her eyes and struggle to put strength in her stride sells Jennifer with charismatic sympathy almost impossible to dislike.
“Apartment 212’s” strongest attribute is its ability to create characterizations such as hers using details hidden in plain sight. Jennifer’s aforementioned fight with a stubborn trailer hitch isn’t only a setup for another setback. It’s a minor moment that says something major about being unaccustomed to newfound independence. Jennifer regularly finds herself confronting the differences between the ideal in her mind’s eye and reality. Every encounter erodes her spirit, whether the audience consciously sees past the surface experience or not.
It’s not incorrect to call how the movie handles these instances ‘impressive.’ “Apartment 212” has a soft touch that molds multidimensional characters out of subtle acting tics and casually conversational dialogue that isn’t disposable.
Had he more screen time, comedian Kyle Gass as Jennifer’s teddy bear neighbor Terry might pull further out in front in the likable persona race. Frankly, whenever a notable name appears in an off-the-radar release, there’s a reasonable worry that s/he will recognize wading into dirty DTV waters and decide to phone it in from afar. Gass doesn’t do that. He embodies Terry’s charm without forcing comedy inorganically. Gass exemplifies how everyone wrings remarkable mileage out of simple scene staging purely by treating their roles with respect.
“Apartment 212” gets off to a slow start, even in establishing exactly what its premise is. Landing employment and avoiding Boyd slide down Jennifer’s list of ongoing problems when her neighbor Stella’s sobbing starts keeping her up at night. Stella’s issues stem from an ornate jewelry box adorned with a curious creature she stole from an antiques store. When tragedy befalls Stella, Jennifer ends up inheriting the box, as well as the curse that comes with it.
Jennifer’s sleepless nights become confounding mornings when she begins waking with worrisome wounds on her body. A doctor doesn’t know what they are, but concludes they appear to be bites. Just what Jennifer needs. Another obstacle to putting her life in order. Only this unexpected problem turns out to be the most challenging fear to face.
Predominantly because it features an invested cast of interestingly authentic personalities, “Apartment 212” comes close to crossing the finish line with a full recommendation. It arrives at the tape out of breath somewhat, because its motif of overcoming abuse doesn’t efficiently gel with its parallel narrative. That, and smaller details aren’t as buttoned up as bigger ones.
Inconsequential nitpicks include illusion breakers like Jennifer double-checking the address of her new building after already exiting the car, a common cinema cliché. Where else might Jennifer think she was? Jennifer also meets the apartment manager after already moving in. Who gave her the key? The only reason asides like these earn an eye is because most everything else unfolds so naturally, it’s jarring when something sticks out as contrived.
While the subject of Jennifer getting her groove back remains strongly scripted, like the turtle named after Tina Turner cleverly weaving into the theme, the film’s final third bobbles how to handle the creature feature element. The mini-monster behind Jennifer’s bites appears to be a cousin of the goofy fly puppet that attacks Jody and Mike in “Phantasm” (review here). Taking the little beastie seriously can’t be done when it looks like it came out of a trash bin behind the Chiodo Brothers’ studio.
An awkward stylistic shift occurs around the same spot. “Apartment 212” plays one way for a solid hour only to rush its climax with an inconsistent editing rhythm and “Tales from the Darkside” tone mismatched to the seriousness of what motivates Jennifer in the first place. The movie doesn’t veer off course entirely, although the bumpy detour reduces both speed and satisfaction.
“Apartment 212” still has a lot going for it as a fairly polished microbudget production. A couple of pimples like shots temporarily falling out of focus don’t do enough damage to demand popping. With better finesse on the finale, and applying a grip on the atmosphere as firm as its handle on characters, “Apartment 212” could have taken its ample appeal even further.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 65