Review: The Neighbor (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #740

Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 16, 2016
Sub-Genre: Suspense Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 87 minutes
Director: Marcus Dunstan
Producers: Brett Forbes, Patrick Rizzotti
Screenplay: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton
Special Effects: Robert Kurtzman
Cinematography: Eric Leach
Score: Charlie Clouser
Editing: Andrew Wesman
Studios: Fortress Features, The Salt Company International
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films, The Weinstein Company
Stars: Josh Stewart, Alex Essoe, Bill Engvall, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Luke Edwards, Melissa Bolona, Skipp Sudduth, Mason Guccione, David Kallaway, Jaqueline Fleming, Heather Williams, Chaka Desilva

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] The Rolling Stones “Neighbours”

[2] Dark Thirty “Head Up High”

There are two things in life that you cannot choose. One is family and the other are neighbors. You may find the perfect home in an idyllic location in the leafy ‘burbs, with a white picket fence, double-berth garage and lush, green back garden complete with water feature; but if the Manson family manage to acquire the property next door, then your dream house can instantly become nightmarish. To some, noise pollution is a serious affair, whereas others will think nothing of cranking the volume to max in the wee hours of the morning, regardless of the fact that you’ve just come off a long week of nights. It’s something we often overlook when exchanging contracts and has been known to bite new tenants right on the ass.

I’ve actually been rather fortunate with regards to those proximate to my living quarters. Bizarrely however, the house directly to the right has seen more fresh intakes than the Playboy mansion and, while its occupants have always kept themselves to themselves, the thin walls tell an all too familiar tale. I believe that a house does possess its own residual energy, dependent on what it has witnessed over the years, and this particular abode must have observed some serious ding-dong battles as every couple that moves in ultimately wind up hating one another. However, there’s nothing like a dash of full-scale verbal warfare next door to make you grateful for your harmonious existence and it really isn’t all that hard to turn a blind ear.

But what if you suspected your neighbor was up to no good? Is it any of your beeswax? If you run into them while mowing your front lawn, do you smile politely or growl your derision? Are you duty bound by the rules of neighborhood watch to make that “anonymous” phone call to the authorities and drop them right in it? It’s one thing when their sycamore tree hangs three inches into your territory but quite another when you suspect them of foul play. Ignorance may well be bliss but neighbors are traditionally somewhat nosy and find it hard to resist the allure of a spot of conspiracy-based drama when it’s smack bang in their zip code. If you are affected by any of the issues highlighted above, then I’d suggest watching Marcus Dunstan’s The Neighbor as it should clear up any confusion quick-smart.

Dunstan’s name may not be familiar with you but his body of work most certainly will. Aside from co-writing John Gulager’s entire Feast trilogy with partner-in-crime Patrick Melton, he also part penned a number of the Saw movies, while his directorial debut The Collector and its sequel The Collection have gone to become two of the most well regarded entries into the entire “torture porn” canon.

In fact, both fitted rather snugly into the home invasion sub-genre, although the emphasis here was less on unlawful entry and more unlikely exit. One thing was crystal clear off the back of such a spirited start for Dunstan; he was evidently one to watch very closely indeed over the coming years. His latest feature may be more sidestepper than forward marcher, but it reinforces my belief that he’s right there on the cusp of far bigger and better things. Anyhoots, in the name of community spirit, how about we head on over to Cutter, Mississippi and make ourselves acquainted to some of the residents?

At first glance, John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe) appear pretty much your average twentysomething couple. You certainly wouldn’t think them capable of running an entirely shady operation under their roof; boosting cars and running drugs for their living.

Well that’s precisely what they’d want you to believe as they’re well and truly up to no good behind closed doors and involved in all manner of illicit activities. To be fair, there is a bigger picture here and it entails saving up enough dirty money to start afresh in sunny Mexico. But that doesn’t make their pursuits any less shifty.

Speaking of which, it appears that their neighbor may well be up to something felonious also. Troy (Bill Engvall) may seem congenial enough, indeed he’s even found the time to pop across for formal introductions, but something doesn’t add up and they decide a little light surveillance is called for.

Using their none too discreet window-stationed telescope to keep a watchful eye on his movements, it soon becomes clear that Troy likes a spot of hunting in his downtime. However, chasing wascally wabbits around the front yard with a hunting rifle isn’t a crime and what goes on within his fixtures and fittings only Troy appears destined to know. That said, he does have receive rather a lot of late-night visitations so best keep close vigil just to be safe.

To reveal any more would be far less than neighborly as Dunstan pulls the rug out from beneath our feet reasonably swiftly and the answers to all our burning questions become crystal clear soon after. The running time is decidedly brisk and there’s no chance whatsoever of The Neighbor ever wearing out its welcome as it’s in and out quicker than Bill Cosby at a fundraiser.

What I will say is this – once it picks up the pace, it seldom slackens for a solitary second’s breathing space and the final forty-five are minutes positively wall to wall with incident and peril. It’s no great stretch for Dunstan, whose last two films weren’t a million miles away with regards to both theme and tone. But there’s also rather a lot to be said for sticking at what you’re good at.

Casting Stewart again as his lead must have seemed a no-brainer and predictably he gets it bang on the money. John isn’t one for flapping his lips unnecessarily and evidently prefers tight lips to sunken ships. However, he is not to be taken at all lightly and, should his back be against the wall, John can scrap with the very best of them and outfox his opponents without the even knowing they’ve been diddled.

As for Essoe, well I’ve been chomping at the bit for another hit ever since being bowled over by her majestic turn in Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer’s Starry Eyes and, needless to say, she doesn’t disappoint one iota. There she was out of this stratosphere, whereas here, she has to be content with sharing the spotlight and goes about her business efficiently. But it’s hard taking your eyes off her for a second every time she graces us with her presence.

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, Engvall positively oozes passive aggression and odds-on resident evil, making his presence very much felt without the need for raising his voice to get his point across.

The Neighbor may be well paced and played, but there’s just not enough meat on the bones to elevate it to the next level. That said, both Eric Leach’s photography and Charlie Clouser’s score assist no end in generating suspense and Dunstan’s slick direction simply cannot be faulted. If I’m being brutally honest, I’d like to see him step out of his comfort zone next time around as the one thing this lacks when placed alongside his previous works is any real sense of progression and there are only so many ways you can tell the same story. But I’m far less inclined to peek over my neighbor’s fence now when I hear them going at it hammer and tong so I’d call that job done, wouldn’t you?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: If you’re anticipating wall-to-wall death traps and bloated body counts then The Neighbor is likely to leave you feeling pretty solemn. That said, Dunstan knows exactly how and when to hit you with sudden bursts of brutal violence and there are a couple of bona fide doobies on the platter here to help spice up his dish some, with none other than the great Robert Kurtzman packing those blood pouches.

Read The Collector Appraisal
Read The Collection Appraisal
Read Tales of Halloween Appraisal 
Read Starry Eyes Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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