Film Review: The Super

In this formulaic but nicely executed horror film, a still-grieving widower is looking for a new start when he takes a job in an rambling New York City building…but there’s something spooky going on.
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The Lodge family—former police officer Phil (Patrick John Flueger), restless 14-year-old Violet (Tyler Richardson) and her sweet little sister Rose (Mattea Conforti)—has been through some rough times since Phil’s wife died in a fire from which he escaped with the children. But things are looking up, relatively speaking, with his new job as superintendent of a once-grand Manhattan apartment building, now a co-op with a mix of new buyers and older tenants. Yes, the Lodges’ “apartment” is a storage room—but it’s spacious and though short on privacy encourages a kind of closeness that the fractured family still sorely needs: Even when Dad’s at work, he’s never far away. It’s not quite the Overlook Hotel—no one in New York is ever hours away from anyplace else in the city—but as New Yorkers know, every block is a microcosm and large buildings are ecosystems of their own.

The residents include the expected eccentrics—the building is rent-controlled, so no one has much incentive to leave—but co-worker Julio (Yul Vasquez) is a good guy and manager Mr. Johnson (Paul Ben-Victor) is okay. The problem is Walter (Val Kilmer), who’s curt and creepy. Creepier, in fact, than Phil or anyone else realizes, and the fact that he regularly prowls around the building spying on tenants through the ventilation grates (shades of the lunatic Klaus Kinski horror-show Crawlspace) isn’t the half of it.

The Super is well written and acted—two things that should be givens but often aren’t, especially in genre films—and the fact that the story unfolds in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world doesn’t diminish the sense of isolation the story requires. The rambling, past-its-prime apartment building is a world of its own, one whose insularity is abetted by the fact that many of the tenants are elderly and much of the staff lives on the premises. It’s not quite an island, but it’s close enough, the same phenomenon Roman Polanski exploited in Rosemary’s Baby. Which isn’t to say that The Super is a boundary-defying masterwork of that caliber, only that writer John J. McLaughlin’s (Black Swan) screenplay aspires to something more than Gotcha! scares strung along a thin narrative thread.

How surprising the story’s twist ending turns out to be depends on how thoroughly steeped in horror moves the viewer is, but it’s well executed down to small details like the creepy clown puzzle with which little Rose likes to play.