From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Watching The Plumber reminded me of something that happened when I started my first job. I was about to leave for the day when a guy with a tool kit walked in, claiming he was the building electrician. I was irritated that he came in just as I was leaving the office. It was then that I committed a crime that made him look like he wanted to murder me with every tool in his box in revenge. I asked to see his ID.
After a staring contest that lasted an eternity where neither of us budged, he finally went, "Look, I have been working here for over 20 years, nobody asked for my ID." He seems adamant almost to the pint of being stubborn about not showing his ID. I had to stay back in the end till he finished the work he said he came to do. Until I continued to work there, we crossed each other across the building and nod in acknowledgment. But I realized how it could have quickly gone the other way. That your worst fears came true, and he did turn out to be a psychopath. Slowly, chipping away at our sanity while chipping at the walls.
This incident came to mind when I saw The Plumber. It is a movie which has a simple premise. In one sentence, it is a movie about how one person's idyllic day is slowly destroyed by a random stranger who she lets into her home by chance. The Plumber starts with a professor Dr. Brian Cowper (Robert Coleby), leaving for college while his wife Jill (Judy Morris), a student in anthropology, continues with her studies. As Brian leaves, a guy walks in the building, and we see a shot of his hands here, spontaneously chooses the ninth floor. What is scary about this scene is the effortless way he walks in like he has nothing better to do that day. And all this comes out without even seeing single a shot of his face. Like he just decided right there, he will walk in of the protagonist and claim to be the working for the building.
Now Jill faces the dilemma of whether to let him in or not. And as she lets him in, she seals her fate and starts the cat and mouse game that lasts through the movie. Judy Morris plays the vulnerable wife Jill, who immediately recognizes the mistake she made out of politeness but realizes she is too far in and decides to let it be. Though it might put some off the way, she keeps allowing him to come back until its too late. You understand why, especially when people around her also brushes her off. Like her husband, Robert, who is a character you can't get on board with, the way he keeps dismissing her fears even when people are getting injured around the bathroom the Plumber has come to fix. As the movie progresses, we see the state of the toilet getting messier, but Robert does not want to deal with it. And Robert Coleby's portrayal of Brian also doesn't help matters as he plays up his cluelessness to the point where it gets maddening.
But the MVP is Ivar Kants, who plays the titular Plumber. He looks like the kind of guy you get immediately suspicious of but pretty soon gets taken in by his uncouth roguish charm. You are hardly surprised when people let him get away with his dismissive ticks and his claims of just having fun, especially when it is pretty evident that he knows his way around and also when it looks like people around the campus knows him. Which still doesn't assuage her fears as we have already seen multiple times his knack of conning his way to where he has no business being.
I was surprised to know this was a movie directly by Peter Weir, sandwiched between two of his Aussie classics, The Last Wave and Gallipoli. It does feel like a lesser movie directed by someone who is capable of better things. So it makes sense that though it initially took birth as a TV movie, it was later realized for the theater. You can even draw parallels to Duel, another TV movie that won enough acclaim and popularity that it was expanded and released into theaters. It doesn't quite hit the slow, tense escalation of that movie as rarely do you feel that Jill is in real danger. Despite a couple of scenes where he slowly threatens her in his subtle menacing way.
And you never really get to know why he decides to menace her even if it looks like he spontaneously decided on it. But as he keeps on destroying both her bathroom and sanity, you understand why she does what she does in the climax. Who knows, maybe he will be back after a few years to haunt them again.
There are mainly scenes where he gets thoroughly dangerous, like the scene where he sings and plays multiple instruments while annoying the hell out of Jill. Or the first time they meet when he chips at the toilet and then takes a shower in the bathroom. The single drop of water on his hair after it makes your skin crawl at the violation of her privacy.
The Plumber is a movie that is for the Peter Weir completist, which was was eventually released right before he transitioned to Hollywood in the '80s. It made me relive that incident from my first job though I was not scared to bits and made me think it is okay to be suspicious sometimes than be sorry.