Another ride down Hitchcock road, but a jolting and hypnotic one, thanks to fleet directing from John Schlesinger and a twisty script by Daniel Pyne. The story taps into a yuppie nightmare: Patty Palmer (Melanie Griffith) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine), lovers on the verge of marriage, have pooled their money for a down payment on a Victorian home in San Francisco. To help with expenses, they rent a studio downstairs to Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton), who’s hardly the charmer he seems. It’s not just that he stiffs them on the rent, hammers at night and breeds roaches; Hayes, to judge by his reaction to an eviction notice, may be a psycho.
Pyne says he had real-life troubles evicting the wrong person, and though he admits his script is a worst-case scenario, the legal machinations of eviction lend this thriller authenticity. It also helps that Griffith and Modine delineate the strains on the couple’s relationship with humor and grit. Still, the movie’s sizzle comes from Keaton. Out of Batman’s do-gooder cape, he delivers a chilling performance, imbuing what could have been a one-note nut case with unexpected reserves of feeling. The acting and direction don’t fill in all the credibility gaps, but they do make for classy, crackling suspense.