The Sublet is a suspense driven psychological thriller about Joanna, a new mom coping with her baby alone in an odd sublet apartment. As her husband neglects her to focus on his career, Joanna questions her sanity as she discovers a violent past to the apartment and suspects that the building may be haunted.
At first glance The Sublet would suggest we’re dealing with yet another film that relies on all the trappings we are more than accustomed to when it comes to musty and decrepit haunted house movies. Fortunately, John Ainslie’s directorial debut puts a stalwart spin on supernatural clichés by tapping into the intimidating terrors of postpartum depression, pushing baby blues to harrowing limits that will have you thinking twice and thrice about motherhood.
A slow-burner at its core and set almost exclusively in the titular abode, Ainslie makes crafty use of affecting character arcs and a perplexing sense of unease and unpredictability to ensure the film’s narrative and suspense never flounders. This is competently complemented by Tianna Nori’s perfect blend of maternal charms and psychotic chills and her shrewd delivery is guaranteed to lure you down to the darkest depths as her character’s life changes start to take their terrifying toll. Her increasingly intense performance does a superb job of keeping the audience on tenterhooks, forcing you to question whether what you are witnessing is a by-product of delirium or if there really is a “logical” supernatural explanation. This is further enhanced by some abstruse sequences that are sure to throw you off guard. A prime example is a particularly Lynchian scene involving two cops who give Joanna the third-degree, posing questions that throw a massive spanner in the works forcing us to question absolutely everything we’ve witnessed up until that moment.
The remaining players making up this modest cast put in almost as proficient performances too. Mark Matechuk plays the particularly contemptible husband, Geoff, shunning his wife and her seemingly increasing loss of sanity in favour of his career. Cue Geoff’s ex-colleague/old flame Alex (Rachel Sellan) who, despite a brief appearance when she is brought back for dinner, much to Joanna’s surprise, throws in some wickedly stygian comedy in the form of a rollicking Nori vs. Sellan ruckus. A barrage of below the belt snide remarks ensures that this is one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
After a 70-minute simmer, Ainslie brings the whole thing to boiling point, rendering a relentlessly feral finale and, despite the sudden volte-face in favour of some serious bloodletting, it makes for an impetuous and fitting conclusion. Nonetheless, the film’s most potent facet is its cutting depiction of the baby blues and the underlying postulation that everything could in fact be a terrifying manifestation of Joanna’s postpartum psychosis. Whilst I’m almost certain that some viewers will be quick to point out evident cribbing from psycho-supernatural yarns that have come before it – Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist being the most apparent influences – The Sublet really does pack its own sui generis punch to ensure it’s as unsettling as claustrophobic creep-outs come.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)