Only a short time after the release of the wonderful Parasite, the idea of home infiltration returns courtesy of Netflix with this Spanish thriller The Occupant (Hogar), a study of struggle, deceit, blackmail and ruthlessness.
For a year, Javier Munoz (Javier Gutierrez) has been struggling to find work since he left his advertising executive position in search of a challenge, gaining job interviews but leaving with no luck despite his resume. The opening scene sees that, with one reason for his failings coming down to being an older man in a young person’s world. With a son’s tuition being prioritised, his wife suggests they save money by leaving their luxurious modern apartment and to a smaller place until their finances are stable.
Javier can only bite his lip (or dent his car via kicking) and accept the current scenario, until by chance, he finds the keys to his old apartment in his car, thrown at him as he let go of his distraught cleaner. While the new occupants, a family of three, are out, Javier lets himself in to his old space, making himself at home and then doing some research into the husband Tomas (Mario Casas).
He discovers he is a recovering alcoholic and inserts himself into a recovery meeting to befriend Tomas as part of an elaborate ruse to involve him in his life and go to desperate lengths to better his own.
At the hands of directing brothers Alex and David Pastor, we observe from the outset the struggles of the character of Javier. The themes are reflected by the Spanish translation of Hogar which means home. His situation is unwelcoming but he is not at the end. Somehow, there is still enough in him to cling on to his car and family but the loss of the apartment is what triggers his obsessive nature.
It is in some way a character piece about a man who just needs a break, but finds himself facing obstacle after another. The directors show something looking positive for him, such as when it appears he has finally found a job. But they cruelly present a twist in the tale when it turns out the job requires a three-month unpaid trial, something the acquainted interviewer hides from him believing its a bargain.
The subsequent kicking of the car in frustration is almost similar to the behaviour of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck where circumstances leave this man unable to catch a break and lead him down a path (on a different scale) in contrast to where we first see him. Javier’s character arc is crucial to the film as we see how the desire to return to an idyllic life sees him go from law-abiding career man to a ruthless individual, in a way defending his behaviour with a tinge of vigilantism.
With the first half playing as a gradual study in character, the second half steps up a gear as it becomes darker and develops into a solid thriller, punctuated by a set of suspenseful sequences which see Javier’s plan threatened with discovery. As is classical within the genre, the aims of the lead character are provided with obstacles, as if his plan is not challenging enough, including a subplot involving Javier being blackmailed by a local paedophile gardener.
The act of keeping one’s cover from being blown is what makes the film entertain as it does and in some way, we root for Javier the more we invest in him because of his relatable aims at wanting the best for himself. It’s not going to end up as one of the great thrillers of this decade, but The Occupant is a welcome invitation into the dark recesses of ambition and a vindication on Netflix’s part for investing in it.
OUT OF FOUR STARS: ***