'The Super': Film Review

Familiar stuff, but Kilmer makes it work.

Val Kilmer plays a possibly homicidal building superintendent in Stephan Rick's Manhattan-set horror film.

If there's one thing we should have learned from horror movies by now, it's that bad things happen to people who live in creepy old apartment buildings. Roman Polanski made the setting something of a specialty with such films as Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant. And while Stephan Rick's horror film The Super doesn't benefit from any comparisons, it offers a few decent scares as well as the opportunity for Val Kilmer to once again display his unique brand of screen charisma.

Kilmer is being billed as the film's star, but as is so often the case with well-known performers in these sorts of B-movies (Bruce Willis being a prime example), he's in a supporting role. The actual leading man is Patrick John Flueger (Chicago P.D., The 4400), who plays Phil, a widowed ex-cop who takes a job as a superintendent at a vintage, run-down Manhattan apartment building. He also moves into the building with his troubled teenage daughter Violet (Taylor Richardson) and her younger sibling Rose (Mattea Marie Conforti), although the three family members are forced to bunk together in a storage room.

Phil has two colleagues already working there: Julio (Yul Vazquez, excellent), who seems affable enough, and Walter (Kilmer), who just seems creepy. Phil isn't happy about his youngest daughter's fascination with Walter, who besides making repairs also dabbles in black magic. When various tenants, including an elderly lady, begin mysteriously disappearing from the building, Phil suspects Walter of being involved. He's so suspicious, in fact, that he plants incriminating evidence in Walter's apartment to attract the attention of law enforcement. But the gambit doesn't work and the tenants keep going missing.

Director Rick provides a suitably eerie atmosphere, with Stefan Ciupek's noirish lensing and Kaet McAnneny's detailed production design making solid contributions. But the script by John C. McLaughlin, who trafficked in similar territory to much better effect with Black Swan, doesn't fully live up to its potential. A pre-credit sequence depicting the gruesome slayings of two unidentified people sets the gory tone but goes on far too long. There's an overreliance on the use of nightmares as red herrings. And the elaborate M. Night Shyamalan-style twist at the end, while admittedly hard to see coming, feels like something we've seen too many times before.

The film nonetheless has more than a few effective moments, many of them provided by Kilmer. Looking gaunt, sporting a devilish goatee and speaking with a pronounced, unfamiliar raspiness (it's hard to say whether it's the result of his bout with throat cancer or if his voice has been dubbed), the actor makes his character mesmerizingly unsettling in his relatively brief screen time. Flueger delivers a solid turn as the cop who may be more emotionally off-kilter than he initially seems; Conforti is subtly disquieting as the seemingly placid younger daughter; and Paul Ben-Victor is pitch-perfect as a sleazy building manager. Louisa Krause makes little impression as a possible love interest, but that's more the fault of her underwritten and extraneous role.

Produced by prolific television veteran Dick Wolf of the Law & Order franchises, The Super isn't distinctive enough to make it stand out amongst the glut of urban-set horror films. But it is chilling enough to make glass-walled, modern high-rises a lot more appealing.

Production companies: Fortress Features, Wolf Films
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Patrick John Flueger, Val Kilmer, Louisa Krause, Mattea Marie Conforti, Taylor Richardson, Paul Ben-Victor, Yul Vazquez, Alex Essoe, Luke Edwards
Director: Stephan Rick
Screenwriter: John J. McLaughlin
Producers: Dick Wolf, Brett Forbes, Patrick Rizzotti, Tom Thayer
Executive producers: Ali Jazayeri, Viviana Zarragoita
Director of photography: Stefan Ciupek
Production designer: Kaet McAnneny
Editor: Andrew Wesman
Composers: Jens Grotzschel, Stefan Schulziki
Costume designer: Shauna Leone
Casting: Avy Kaufman

Rated R, 88 minutes