In the tradition of Pacific Heights and Single White Female, The 4th Floor plays upon the universal fear of being unsafe in one’s own home, of having neighbors so creepy that your sanctuary becomes a hellish prison. Such is the case for Jane (Juliette Lewis) after her aunt leaves her an apartment in an exclusive, rent-controlled building. Her weatherman boyfriend (William Hurt) wants her to move in with him, and whines and cries about it so much that you’d be tempted to say no purely out of spite. Jane loves the guy, though, and takes the apartment on the grounds that she wants her independence.
Right away, she notices that some of the neighbors are pretty creepy. One woman, amusingly named Martha Stewart (Shelley Duvall), seems friendly and helpful at first, but soon turns meddlesome and peculiar. It seems that there are an awful lot of rules in this building, and it only gets worse as Jane tries to settle in to her new digs. Every time she tries to hang a picture or move a piece of furniture, she’s met with vigorous pounding from downstairs. It seems she can’t do anything without evoking the wrath of her neighbors.
Soon things are getting out of control – Jane finds ominous notes taped to her door, followed by infestations of worms, flies, and mice. There are odd deliveries of packing peanuts to one of the apartments, and the neighbor across the street seems to be some sort of peeping tom. It would seem that the whole block is full of creeps, but still she resists the temptation to move in with her boyfriend. Her resolve only strengthens when he comes over for dinner one night and childishly refuses to dry her plates the way she asks him to. Bastard! And isn’t it a coincidence that he’s an old chum of the man downstairs? Isn’t that interesting?
Despite various warnings, Jane keeps trying to figure out who’s harassing her. Even after she finds a map of her own apartment on the ceiling of the unit below hers, she refuses to be a victim. She even stops an intruder by stamping her foot (on broken glass, no less) until a sculpture falls off the wall and onto his head. Quick thinking, Jane! Juliette Lewis is the kind actress who is strong enough and quirky enough to carry a movie almost entirely by herself. It’s not difficult to get all caught up in her woes, and root for her til the bitter end, which, incidentally is both predictable and surprisingly depressing.