Kitty Genovese, whose 1964 murder caused a violent reassessment of the American character, is something of a polymorphous shadow on our psychological landscape. From brutalized victim of urban apathy, to LGBT icon, to a symptom of journalistic exploitation (the original, sensationalistic story having been revealed as something of a fraud)—whatever she is, or was, or will be, we hold her so closely it’s hard to see her anymore.
What the Danish-born director Puk Grasten provides in “37”—a reference to the number of neighbors who allegedly “didn’t want to get involved”—is an outsider’s perspective and an idiosyncratic manifestation of the horror movie, one in which Ms. Genovese and her death occupy only the cosmic margins. Suggestive at times of “The Shining” and Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” it is set in a New York, and an America, that was on the cusp of tumultuous social change, but where the odd and eccentric are still considered shameful. It’s a semi-hallucinatory portrait of a neighborhood, and state of mind, in which a woman’s desperate screams could be written off as wind, trains or, maybe, the arrival of UFOs. It will be few people’s example of a Kitty Genovese story, save for that shadow Kitty casts on everything. But it is a haunting movie, one in its director’s total control, full of disturbing ideas and no short amount of magic.