What if The Plumber (1979) invaded your house and scared your wife?
This film was an Australian TV movie by Peter Weir, but it later opened in limited theatres, as people were taken with its unique twist on the uninvited household invader. This film stars some smalltime Australian actors I wasn’t familiar with, including Ivar Kants as the plumber. The premise set up by the film had me thinking it was a typical slasher film with the uninvited stranger as the killer, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. It is a one-trick pony type of movie, but it does that trick so well, it works.
It is dizzying how this psychological thriller becomes more strange by the moment, but that’s Peter Weir for ya. The movie begins by tricking us into thinking the Plumber has ulterior motives, as he arrives at an apartment to work on some bathroom pipes with no real explanation about what is wrong. The stay-at-home wife seems suspicious of him at first, but lets him in anyway, and allows him to dismantle her bathroom. Who knows why.
Max the Plumber does a whole lot of talking for a guy on a schedule. There’s no project management anywhere to be found around this guy. He takes his time, has coffee breaks, and chats it up with Jill, played by Judy Morris. She stays at home working, so she’s stuck with him. He pries into her business and even talks to her friends who come over. He has a strange personality and tells crass jokes, which really make Jill uncomfortable. Overall, Jill doesn’t want to be anywhere around him.
Having had quite enough, Jill goes to the apartment manager. She is told the Plumber does indeed work for the complex and many of the apartments are having similar work done. To say I was surprised is an understatement. Not only does this change the complexity of the movie, but it paints Jill as an entirely different person. She comes off as paranoid, and she can’t do anything about the Plumber after the manager laughs at her. It’s his job and it seems like he’s just a weirdo eccentric, not a slasher or a rapist.
Everyone seems to support the Plumber. Jill’s husband even thinks she’s making too much of it. It’s not like the Plumber has made a pass at her or anything, he’s just strange. Jill has all these preconceived notions about him that she can’t get out of her head. She threatens him and tells him to get out, but he has to be there to fix the bathroom. She draws into herself and she becomes silent, morose, and distant. It’s only pipes lady, geez.
She decides to frame him for stealing from her, planting some evidence in his van. She has the police arrest him and take him away, watching from the balcony as they drag him off. He yells that he is innocent, making a huge scene. In the end, he sees her watching from the balcony and cusses her out loudly, having realized the calculated setup.
The tension in this movie is extraordinary. It just builds and builds, but doesn’t go anywhere or payoff with a typical stabbing or anything. In fact, it doesn’t really pay off at all, just ends with a strange picture of paranoia, as Jill frames an innocent man cause he sings in the bathroom and makes her uncomfortable. Don’t piss off women, I guess. The funny thing about this movie is that it had me fooled. I’ll admit it. I thought the Plumber was being intentionally destructive and incompetent in order to get more time to talk to Jill, but it seemed like he only wanted attention. And to get his job done very slowly and stupidly. Did he deserve jail time for that?
The ending was a bit over-the-top, as I don’t think anyone would ever do such a thing, but it was at least interesting and different. I liked it. It shows how an invasion of privacy is really psychological torture, which I agree with after hearing the Plumber sing.
During one scene, the Plumber brings a guitar and a harmonica to sing in the bathroom. Amongst a ruined bathroom, we are treated to the most awkward guitar ballad ever. Forget the manager. I would have kicked his ass out myself at that point. lol.
Peter Weir is the guy who made The Truman Show (1998), so he definitely likes his psychological thrillers with a twist. I’m not sure if I was supposed to take this movie seriously, or if it was trying to be a comedy. I guess it is somewhere in between, but it is definitely a thriller with dark comedy, like many other Peter Weir films. The thing about this movie is that it doesn’t grow beyond its gimmick. There are no subplots or many ancillary characters, but I actually enjoyed the simplicity.
All in all, this is a strange movie that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. It is a psychological thriller with a twist and that’s it. Some of the scenes are silly and overdone, but I think it works in the tone of the movie. Anyway, it takes a certain type of person to find comedy in the invasion of privacy, I guess. But mostly, I don’t get the setup. What kind of person lets a strange man into their apartment without papers or a work order or something? I suppose if you can get past nitpicks like that, the film is pretty decent.
This trailer sums up the strangeness: