A group of people lives holed up in a tenement because of a mysterious sickness affecting people on the outside. All excursions are considered deadly dangerous and people are starting to go crazy after too long of a separation from the outside world.
Written and directed by Nicole Groton, Darkness in Tenement 45 was created and filmed before the pandemic hit and it could not have come out with better timing. Her script sets the story in a world and time that is not entirely clear, perhaps an alternate reality or a time long gone, and it helps the film build its own universe for its characters to live in and evolve in. Her characters are developed just right to give them an impact and she also gives some depth to characters that don’t become major or seemingly are less important. The people she brings to the screen are complete people with personalities and opinions. The way she brings the script and its characters to the screen is also fantastic and it creates a complete world that feels like there is so much more going on outside of the building and outside of the characters at hand.
Those characters are played by a dedicated ensemble of actors led by Nicole Tompkins who gives her character of Joanna depth and helps her arc make sense in how she gives her emotions and nuances them just right. Her performance is THE performance of the film and it gives a fantastic impression of the actress as someone to look out for in future films. Working against her is Casey Kramer as Martha who gives a performance that gets under the skin early one. Her work here makes her the villain of sort and it work amazingly well against the arc of Joanna. The rest of the cast is great as well, all giving good performances with many having their moments to shine and giving the film so much to offer.
Darkness in Tenement 45 works in great part due to the above, but also because of its look and how it feels, there is a heavy weight felt throughout the film and a darkness that is invasive. This is obtained with the script, the direction, and the performances of course, but also with the cinematography, the music, the decors, and the costumes. This is a film where everything was planned carefully, but not over designed. It looks and feels like things seen in other movies, in books, in history, but it’s not trying too hard to point out an era or an exact situation outside. The film has its own look and it works, it adds to the story and makes it even more impactful.
Darkness in Tenement 45 is a film that came out on the festival circuit both at the best time and at the worst time. The subject is very timely and done with good taste and the right amount of a view on the inside of a sort of family trying to work things out while all stuck with each other. The film looks beautiful and dark, a moody piece of timely storytelling that hits the mark just right.