Rainn Wilson has mastered the art of appearing strange and perhaps even a bit unnerving, without actually coming across as sinister. We’re a little scared of Dwight Schrute, but mostly as an in-joke that makes us crack up every time he says something absurd. In everything from “Six Feet Under” to “Juno” he walks roughly the same line between funny and creepy; we don’t expect him to actually have skeletons in his closet, except maybe from a few squirrels.
And that’s part of what makes “Self Storage” such a surprising film. It’s a dark story of infidelity and revenge, made in 2002; well before the oddly unsettling humor Dwight brings to “The Office.” Director Peter O’Brien masterly creates an atmosphere of suspense with very little more than a good script and great pacing, as we watch Wilson and a pre-“Lost” William Mapother stare each other down.
Lee (Wilson) is a cocky yuppie, whose wife Sarah (Catherine Kellner) has convinced him to finally clean out their garage and move everything into storage. Little does he know that she’s planning to run away with their friend Graham (Mapother), and that once the boxes are locked away his life is going to collapse. Lee starts out as the sympathetic character, the inevitably crushed fool left alone by the two most important people in his life.
Yet things change quite dramatically as “Self Storage” plays out. Suddenly, as Lee and Graham move through the underground halls of the storage facility we get the unshakeable impression that something bad is going to happen – something violent. The hinting gets stronger and stronger, until it’s clear that one of the two is going to attempt murder, and we just don’t know who. As Sarah sits blissfully ignorant at home and off screen, Lee’s calm and sinister eccentricity battles it out with Graham’s sweaty panic. And while the finale of the short is perhaps a bit too ridiculous, it’s nonetheless fascinating to watch Wilson tackle a character as creepy as any he’s played without a moment of humor to soften the role.
The performances are also very much helped by the pacing, O’Brien managing to create just the right mood into which these characters will bring their menacing behavior. He winds the camera through empty halls playing on the inherent eeriness of this strange setting, where people hide their unwanted possessions from the world (and perhaps the authorities). It’s an effective and spooky exploration of those proverbial skeletons, hiding in some larger and more unnerving underground closets. Check it out: