Whispers Behind the Wall (East End Film Festival 2014)

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It’s too easy to mention Polanski or Hitchcock whenever a suspenseful thriller pits a man alone in a new apartment, yet the initial strengths of Whispers Behind the Wall lie in how it playfully toys around with Rear Window, Repulsion and The Tenant. Transported to a German setting, the director Grzegorz Muskala delights with early flourishes of humour in the struggle of young student Martin (Vincent Redetzki)) to find somewhere to live – only to find a vacancy a little too easily.

The early tone is slanted towards offbeat humour rather than setting up any real sense of trepidation. All Martin has to do to secure a tenancy is pose topless (“That’d make her happy”) for a photo taken on a phone for the landlady’s approval. The flat itself is dishevelled and bears peculiar traces of the former owner: a broken mug bearing the name “ROBERT”, a diary with increasingly manic images when scrolling through the chronology, and a red mat that leads to a wall. Martin’s investigative nature at one point flickers towards Rear Window by spying on the neighbours across the street, before veering into a twist in which he – rather creepily – uses a stethoscope to eavesdrop on the female groans next-door.

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What follows is a peculiar relationship with his landlady, Simone (Katharina Heyer), a blonde seductress who appears like a male fantasy (the screenwriters are male). She takes Martin to bed in the first meeting, only to reveal she has a threatening boyfriend. Add a few puzzling quirks like blood popping up from blocked drains, and Whispers Behind the Wall sets up quite a mystery: what happened to the former tenant?

Like many suspense thrillers, rigorous answers are usually best left unexplained – seeing as they’re often predictable, or so unpredictable that it’s completely ludicrous. When the plot amps up, the first act’s humour is loss for a more conventional thriller. The resultant love triangle – I use the term “love” loosely – performs another unsatisfying exercise in a sound cinematic convention that lacks any ingenuity. Although Muskala demonstrates an inventive eye for a low-budget horror and claustrophobic camera angles, there isn’t much beyond the early promise to suggest a fully rounded idea. Ultimately, it’s a mystery without any mystery.

‘Whispers Behind the Wall’ plays East End Film Festival on 23 June at Hackney Picturehouse. For more information, click here.

It’s too easy to mention Polanski or Hitchcock whenever a suspenseful thriller pits a man alone in a...

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