‘Secret Mall Apartment’ at SXSW Offers a Quirky Visit, But Not a Permanent Stay

The 2024 SXSW Film Festival brought a diverse range of stories to the screen, and ‘Secret Mall Apartment’ stands out for its unusual premise. Directed by Jeremy Workman, the documentary chronicles the experience of eight Rhode Islanders who built a clandestine apartment within a busy shopping mall and resided there for four years, all while filming their unconventional life.

The film doesn’t delve into the legalities of their small residency, instead focusing on the day-to-day realities of this unique living situation. Workman allows the participants to tell their own stories, offering a glimpse into the motivations and challenges of dwelling in such a non-traditional space.

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Secret Mall Apartment
Image Courtesy: Variety

While the initial novelty holds undeniable appeal, the documentary gradually reveals the drawbacks of living in a mall. The constant background noise, the lack of natural light, and the inherent sense of isolation take their toll on the group’s well-being. Despite their close quarters, the initial camaraderie seems to wane under the strain of their unconventional living conditions.

One of the documentary’s strengths is its exploration of the human need for community. The group finds solace and support in each other, creating a makeshift family within the sterile confines of the mall. They share meals, celebrate birthdays, and even collaborate on artistic projects, showcasing their resilience and creativity.

Secret Mall Apartment
Image Courtesy: Variety

Visually, ‘Secret Mall Apartment’ relies heavily on the footage shot by the participants themselves. This first-person perspective offers a raw and intimate look at their daily lives, adding a layer of authenticity to the narrative. The documentary also incorporates scenes of the deserted mall at night, creating an eerie atmosphere that underscores the group’s isolation.

‘Secret Mall Apartment’ is ultimately a bittersweet watch. While the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the group are admirable, the film doesn’t shy away from the hardships they endure.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into a life lived on the fringes, leaving viewers to ponder the lengths we go to for a sense of belonging and the sacrifices we make for unconventional choices.

-Sushmita Sarkar