The Good Neighbor (2016)

Hello, good readers. Some of you might have noticed my absence from the internet, though I imagine most of you are busy with your own lives and have no cause to think of mine. However, I have returned! In the haze of graduate school and political chaos, I live. I have returned to the world of horror criticism tinged with angry feminism. Witness me

And with that introduction, I return to the first review of 2017

The Good Neighbor starts out in the same vein as Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), the more recent Disturbia (2007), and other horror films about the complications of observing a stranger from a distance. Though its inspirations are clear, The Good Neighbor quickly evolves into something quite different. The premise is deceptively simple. Two teenagers, armed with an abundance of time and an absent father’s money, have decided to convince their cranky neighbor he’s being haunted through a combination of technology, special effects, and petty meanness. For posterity, they have broken into the old man’s house and rigged the entire thing with cameras – except for the basement, strangely the only room in the entire house with a lock on it. Hilarity ensues as the pranks and cruelty escalate. Exactly who is this old man? Who or what is locked in the basement? And exactly how many lines will these teenagers cross before they realize they’ve gone too far?

It’s a fun ride. The Good Neighbor has plenty of ideas it wants to work through and the patience to develop them in unexpected ways. Exactly who the “good guys” are in the story isn’t immediately apparent and the film makes great use of scenes where the characters misinterpreted what they see on film and run wild with the conclusions. In a lot of ways, The Good Neighbor is a story about the limitations of film, the conclusions we draw about strangers without knowing them, and – intentionally or otherwise – how devastating the narratives people construct about their lives can become if unchallenged

All and all, The Good Neighbors is a hell of a lot smarter than it looks. It’s tightly paced, well written, and doesn’t include anything excessive. Despite the premise, it’s a tight and sparing film, limiting itself to only three main locations. It does wonders with a sparse set, James Caan gave a wonderful and unexpected performance as the cranky neighbor, and its ending was beautiful and devastating in all the right places. The only complaint I have was that the timeline tends to jump around and while this works as a narrative device, the changes aren’t always clear, which leads to some confusion in a few scenes.

All and all, four stars. Go see this one. It deserves a watch.

 

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