Sweden (2010) Dirs. Johan Lundborg & Johan Storm
Pressure is a terribly divisive thing. Some thrive on it while others crumble under it and the effect it can have on our nerves and mindset is frightening when it gets all too much becomes palpable. But if there is some fire connected to the smoke are we really to blame for our actions?
Frank (Emil Johnsen) is a young Norwegian medical student based in Sweden, where he lives in a cosy apartment block. With important exams looming this seclusion suits Frank just fine until new neighbour Lotte (Ylva Gallon) moves into the flat above. Being half-Norwegian she gravitates to Frank, making untimely visits and asking for his help and being noisy, disturbing his study time.
Lotte has a rather paranoid boyfriend in Micke (Peter Stormare) whilst she lives in fear of her ex, Lenny (Örjan Landström), showing up. Frank opts to stay out of Lotte’s way after being threatened by Micke but her persistent visits cause Frank to lose sleep and miss his exams. Then one night, after Frank refuses to answer the door to a tearful and distressed Lotte, she disappears.
Corridor is the low budget debut from Johan Lundborg & Johan Storm and whilst neither man has returned to the director’s chair, they have stayed in the film making business in other roles. There is a lot of potential shown in this film to suggest either one would fit in nicely with the Nordic Noir TV world, such is the skilful way they create an unnerving atmosphere and build an intense feeling of dread, but after seven years, maybe that ship has sailed.
Taking place mostly in the apartment block, save for a few external scenes at Frank’s medical school, the lack of budget isn’t hindered in anyway, the solitary location proving to be sufficient in telling a suspenseful story without a surfeit of needless distractions. The hallways are cramped, the stairways tight and bending, and the flats paradoxically spacious inside, making the setting perfect for a chilling mystery.
Using paranoia as its key plot device, the circumstances for Frank’s descent into manic suspicion may not be entirely original but it is what can be done with them that makes all the difference. Upon our initial meeting with him, Frank doesn’t appear to have many social graces and his interaction with his fellow students is terse at best, the original Swedish title of Isolerad meaning “isolated” adequately summing up his situation.
Lotte’s perkiness and outgoing personality is day to Frank’s night and not something he is clearly prepared for or willing to entertain, but that, along with already being in a relationship, doesn’t stop Lotte calling in on Frank. But as much as Lotte is a nuisance to him, she also brings him out of his shell a little, partially from him seeing bruises on Lotte’s body.
The sleepless nights and knock-on effect on his exams drive Frank to conniption and soon the slightest thing sets him off, but it is Lotte’s sudden disappearance and Micke’s threatening presence that push Frank over the edge, turning him into a nervous wreck. He has good cause to, with Micke’s regular attempts at breaking into Frank’s flat and the threatening phone calls which the police won’t do anything about.
By maintaining an eerie silence for the majority of the perfunctory 76-minute run time, the slightest hint of a sound takes on a sinister overture. Frank’s room is largely dark save for a table lamp allowing for the occasional jump scare to spook him and the audience. Lundborg and Storm are careful not to over use them, limited to about three at the most, relying solely on the atmosphere to provide the chills.
Recalling the corridor sequence from The Shining, the cramped passageways become a veritable playing field for nail-biting tension as Frank scrambles to escape Micke’s pursuit, relying instead on bold-faced guile to save his skin. The cameras are kept tight on Frank for that frantic sense of claustrophobia and enhance the impedance a dead end brings, nervously swinging around to show Micke’s impending arrival
This neatly illustrates the double-edged sword of the sanctuary that is Frank’s apartment – he can keep Micke out but Frank himself can’t go anywhere either and with external help not forthcoming, he is truly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. And with his mind concocting all sorts of theories and notions about what fate has befallen Lotte and what awaits him, Frank mentally may not last the distance.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the story, the script is cleverer than that, covering all bases of probability and continuity, so the slightest development is fully accountable before veering off into unexpected directions. The mildly ambiguous denouement stays within the story’s remit of assuming too much without having all the information. Had Lotte opened up to Frank, how much of this could have been avoided?
As with any thriller, it success hinges on the performances and Emil Johnsen is fantastic as Frank, an ordinary, insular chap driven to the cusp of anxious collapse. His gradual physical and mental degradation is acutely essayed by Johnsen, mirrored by Ylva Gallon’s believable turn as the fateful Lotte, a clearly layered figure of nervous energy. The hulking Peter Stormare has worked internationally thus might be the most familiar face for some viewers.
It’s an often-proved theory that less is more and Corridor exemplifies this in achieving so much with so little. The lack of bells and whistles gives the directors a freedom to downplay the usual horror/thriller expectations and it works to their advantage. This isn’t the reinvention of the wheel but it is shiny new set of spokes to help take the genre into fresh new directions.