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.
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.