When it comes to low budget, independent filmmaking, one of the most well-suited genres is that of psychological horror. As long as the story is solid and the director talented, you can do a lot with a little. Such is the case with “Darkness in Tenement 45,” a creative film about the fear and madness that can consume the human condition while living in cramped quarters, and our tendency to become violent as we are forced to enter survival mode. It’s a coincidence that the story is so topical, and it hits close to home with the COVID-19 virus scare that’s currently keeping much of the world in self-quarantine.
Following an attack from the Soviet Union in the 1950s, a group of New Yorkers shares a city tenement, fearful of what could be outside beyond the front door. Teenager Joanna (Nicole Tompkins) has been living with her overbearing Aunt Martha (Casey Kramer) after the 16 year old had a violent outburst described as “the darkness.” Just weeks after moving in, the Russian threat locked everyone inside. It’s been a month and food supplies are running out, Aunt Martha’s taken over as the leader, and Joanna struggles to face her demons. Eventually, the tenants begin to turn on each other as the power dynamics abruptly shift.
The film abides by the Hitchcock school of suspense, where sometimes it’s the best path to leave some of the more violent aspects of the story up to the imaginations of the audience. What’s in our minds if often more horrific that what could be shown on camera, and it’s a very effective technique here.
Writer / director Nicole Groton has crafted a story that is a successful blend of smart horror and a cautionary tale about the abuse of power. It’s clear Groton is a confident filmmaker, with a well-executed, if straightforward and structured, vision. It’s a simple story that’s well told, competently acted (considering it’s a cast of unknowns) and a wonderfully moody original score that sets the tone. “Darkness in Tenement 45” is interesting and creative, and is something fans of small indie films should seek out.