You can call it The Parasite Effect. The Occupant is Netflix taking a chance on a film in which a man tries to scheme his way into a better life. It takes all the thematics of Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar winner but little of the filmmaking style, wit or intellectual heft. Instead, Spanish filmmaking brothers David and Alex Pastor’s film spins what is essentially a ’90s thriller out of a battle between the Haves and Have Nots with all that suggests; over-the-top machinations, ludicrous plot twists, unbelievable behaviour, and ridiculously nice furnishings. It’s not without some pleasures but never really grips the way it should.
It could all be schlocky fun but the Pastors never land on a tone to make sense of the character’s actions or motivations.
The Occupant starts with a fake out: a perfect family sitting down for a sumptuous meal in a beautifully furnished house to the idyllic strains of Delibes’ The Flower Duet is revealed to be a commercial (tagline: ‘The Life You Deserve!’), the handiwork of fifty-something advertising exec Javier Muñoz (Javier Gutiérrez). A legend of the industry, Javier has fallen on hard times, out of step with current trends and applying for internships without realising they are unpaid. He craves the Good Life and all its superficial trappings, so it hits him hard when he has to sell his car, fire his cleaner, and leave his stunning home for a cramped apartment in a working class district.
This is the point on which the plot pivots. Javier returns to his apartment — he still has the keys after sacking his cleaner — and becomes unhealthily obsessed with the new tenants in his old digs: high-flying businessman Tomás (Mario Cassas), wife Lara (Bruna Cusi), and cute moppet daughter Monica (Iris Vallés). This obsession turns malevolent as Javier follows Tomas as to an AA meeting and begins to inveigle his way into his life. What follows is a series of increasingly ludicrous scams which Javier uses to upset and unsettle the couple’s status quo involving (among other things) computer calendars, a pervy gardener, a crashed car, a rhythmic gymnast, and essence of peanut. You feel that if Javier poured the same creativity into his advertising portfolio as he does into his cunning plans, he’d be Don fucking Draper.
It could all be schlocky fun but the Pastors never land on a tone to make sense of the character’s actions or motivations. Instead, the film opts for a slow pace that never really escalates. As a greying villain, Gutiérrez’s Javier doesn’t provoke a fear factor of a Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct), Bridget Gregory (The Last Seduction) or Peyton Mott (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle), meaning the thrills feel watered down. Some of the schemes come off smartly but mostly this is one stalker that it’s easy to leave behind.