Wednesday, January 4, 2017

In short: The Neighbor (2016)

Not to be confused with other films about problematic neighbourhoods; also, there will be spoilers.

John (Josh Stewart) and his wife Rosie (Alex Essoe) work for John’s uncle Neil (Skipp Sudduth) as drug trafficking middlemen. They’ve put enough money aside to retire from their life of crime and move somewhere nicer far, far, away, hoping Neil won’t hunt them down and murder them. They didn’t steal from the man, mind you.

Unfortunately, the couple will have rather more trouble at their hands than an easily ticked-off Midwestern country drug lord. While John is making his final delivery to Neil, Rosie witnesses their neighbour Troy (Bill Engvall) murdering a young man. When John returns, Rosie is gone, supposedly run off, as Troy suggests to him. Only, if Rosie had wanted to leave John the day when they were splitting anyway, she probably would have taken the bag full of money in their house too, or at least some of it. So John knows Troy is lying, particularly since their last encounter the night before had already suggested something to be very wrong with the guy. Yes, wrong even from the perspective of someone in the drug trade.

Consequently John stealthily breaks into the house of Troy and his two sons (Ronnie Gene Blevins and Luke Edwards) to find Rosie, learning quite a bit more about their family business than he wanted to in the process, starting a night from hell for everyone involved.

I didn’t quite expect director Marcus Dunstan to follow up his silly yet wonderful The Collection with a clever little thriller making some caustic subtextual remarks about the American Dream™ like The Neighbor but I’m certainly not complaining.

This is the sort of relatively small-scale production that does basically everything right: the acting is fine throughout, the script effective and the direction is tight and focused, quickly introducing us to what’s what with the characters and then never stopping escalating their situation from there. There’s a sharpness (plus a whole lot of Kurtzman-created blood) to the proceedings even though The Neighbor does have something of an happy end, however ironic the film presents it. But then, one of the main points of the film is to show America (or at least the part of America it concerns itself with) as a place where it’s impossible not have blood on one’s hands.

Which doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to like John and Rosie; they are, after all, the only characters on screen who actually do something for others beyond taking care of their own survival, while their guilt for other people’s suffering through drugs and what comes with them is twice removed, them being middlemen (middlepersons?), after all.

If you’re really looking for something to complain here, it’s probably the basic set-up that’ll make you (un)happy there. It is a bit difficult to swallow that these particular people should end up to be neighbours but starting off from an improbable place as The Neighbor does is certainly a typical thriller move – Hitchcock certainly did it more often than not. And if I can suspend my disbelief for ghosts and zombies, I certainly can do the same when it comes to difficult neighbours.

Otherwise, The Neighbor is as fine a contemporary low budget thriller as you’re likely to find.

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