(A.k.a. THE NEIGHBOR)
The small town of Cutter, Mississippi.
We first meet young couple Jon (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe) as they hurry a car into their garage at night. A woman sits injured in the front. Upon discovering she has a young child in the back, our hoodlums with consciences fix the woman up, replace her car's number plates with new ones and tell her to drive away to safety.
Jon, it transpires, works for his dodgy uncle Neil (Skipp Sudduth). Neil owns a restaurant but this is merely a front for his small-time criminal empire. Jon is a cog in this machine, but he and Rosie desperately want out: they have their minds set on running away together to Mexico. But first they need to fund their dream.
Their latest job brings with it a share of the illicit gains - $25,000.00. Jon and Rosie finally think they have the cash they need to elope.
But first, they receive a visit from their neighbour, Troy (Bill Engvall). He pops round to introduce himself for the first time since they moved there. What he really wants to know is ... has Jon been on his property earlier that day? Yes is the answer, and Troy accepts Jon's explanation that he was simply replacing his wheelie bin which had blown into the road. Troy seems happy with this and, after meeting Rosie and showing clear signs of approval towards her, he leaves. This leaves Jon and Rosie a little disconcerted but they have other pressing matters at hand.
The following morning as Rosie packs her bags, Jon pays one last visit to Neil's restaurant. Alas, it's here that he discovers his uncle knows of his plans to flit - and uncle's not happy. Fearing for Rosie's safety, Jon speeds back home ... to find she's vanished. But rather than suspect Neil's henchmen of foul play, Jon suspects his mysterious neighbour may have something to do with his wife's disappearance.
And so, he goes snooping around Troy's house...
THE NEIGHBOUR is the latest offering from Marcus Dunstan, the guy who gave us cult horrors THE COLLECTOR and its sequel THE COLLECTION. He also wrote the screenplays for no less than three of the SAW sequels.
True to expectancies, then, his latest film is a slick, visually attractive affair with a basic plot, some inventive kills and a whiff of torture porn to it.
The first half works best, Dunstan taking time for his audience to get to know his protagonists. Rosie and Jon come across as a fairly likeable couple despite their illegal source of income. They love each other sincerely and the chemistry shared between Essoe and Stewart feels true. The latter has a cool, Ryan Gosling-ish strength in silence which he plays effortlessly. He's an agreeable anti-hero. Engvall, a comedian by trade, portrays the enigmatic neighbour with restraint. Which makes him all the more insidious - before we learn what's really going on within the walls of his remote house.
It's at this juncture that the film's plot, along with any attempt at characterisation, go flying out of the window. Those are replaced by passages of pretty well-sustained tension, some minor gore (those creative deaths include drowning in a pit of rotting meat and being battered with a camcorder) and a couple of entertaining twists.
But. The final act really undermines the fine work of the film's first hour. Suddenly Dunstan wants to be Tarantino: Essoe transforms absurdly into a hard-ass wise-cracking, fearless bitch; Troy's acquaintances are quirky caricature villains; the violence is met with neon-drenched lighting and blaring blasts of commercial music.
Add in the annoying stylistic choice of interspersing the action with gimmicky camcorder edits between scenes, and you get a film that could've been really strong but seemingly has a pathological desire to repeatedly pull its viewer out of the action.
It's not that it's terrible - on the contrary, I thought THE NEIGHBOUR was pretty good - but it's annoying that such flaws knock a potentially brilliant film down to the level of decent.
Arrow Films are releasing THE NEIGHBOUR on UK DVD this Halloween. Their disc offers a solid uncut presentation, the 16x9 correctly framing the movie in its original ratio. Colours are strong and accurate; blacks are reliable throughout. Images are sharp, and it's only occasionally that they seems too much so: yes, there are a few instances of edge enhancement. That aside, I was impressed with THE NEIGHBOUR's clean, clear representation.
English 5.1 audio makes for a healthy playback. Dialogue, sound design and score are separated evenly and well, helping the film achieve impact where and when it needs to.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a static scene selection option affords access to the film via 12 chapter stops.
There are no supplementary features on offer, unless you count the trio of trailers that the disc is defaulted to open up with: ANGUISH (not the Bigas Luna one; a newer film), UNSPOKEN and TALES OF HALLOWEEN.
THE NEIGHBOUR is a slick and oft-times tense little thriller, economic of plot but briskly paced as a consequence. If it could've just avoided flashy gimmicks and plagiarising other directors during its second half, it may have been great.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Films|
|see main review|