Bill Engvall in The Neighbour
"There's an extra treat for US fans because of the casting of Engvall, the self-described 'sitcom dad', in his first ever horror role."

How well do you know your neighbours? In urban areas, people come and go all the time, but there are lots of opportunities for contact and conversation. Out in the sticks, a new neighbour is a rare thing, but - at least in the US - straying onto somebody else's property carries a risk of being shot. John (Josh Stewart) doesn't realise the risk he's taking when he drags an errant bin back over to his neighbour's house, but at least it starts a conversation. Troy (Bill Engvall) visits his house, shares a beer, admires girlfriend Rosie (Alex Essoe), makes unnerving comments about their telescope. He might be trying to intimidate them; he might just have poor social skills. It shouldn't matter too much. They already have a secret plan to move away.

Why secret? John and Rosie are, themselves, the sort of people you might worry about having next door. In an opening scene that recalls Attack The Block, we see them threatening an injured woman with a small child. We stay with them. They're drug smugglers, low down in the chain of command, living in constant fear of those above them. They've been trying to put by enough to start a new life, and they're almost there. All they need to do is keep going for a few more days.

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Then John comes home and Rosie isn't there.

Cinema is littered with putrid fables woven around the macho fantasy or saving or avenging a helpless female loved one. It's hazardous territory for anyone seeking respect as a serious filmmaker. Yet whilst a good part of The Neighbour is structured this way, it's curiously free of the usual problems. Why? The key lies in John and Rosie's relationship; there's real chemistry between the actors and we get a sense of how the couple operate as a team, trusting each other out of pragmatism rather than desperation. Rosie is a fully developed, level-headed character whose vulnerability is a product of circumstance rather than biology. John is a former soldier, but this doesn't mean he's presented as infallibly tough; rather, it means he knows how to pick his battles, how to prioritise, and how to keep his emotions from getting the better of him. That the two of them have this resilience makes them interesting protagonists, people who can do more than just whimper and panic - despite what they find out about their neighbour.

This is a film that's likely to go down very differently on different sides of the Atlantic. There's an extra treat for US fans because of the casting of Engvall, the self-described 'sitcom dad', in his first ever horror role. It's unnerving and strangely delightful, like what David Lynch did with Ray Wise in Twin Peaks. Yet there's more to Troy than shock value, as his tender relationship with his hesitant younger son reveals. Is he, too, just a guy trying to get by and support his family, to keep going for a few more days until all the stress is over and life can begin?

There are interesting opportunities here to play with audience sympathies, but director Marcus Dunstan doesn't take these as far as he might. The careful plotting and character work quickly gives way to brutality. Here Dunstan keeps things focused on violence which is very much a part of the real world, bringing the narrative closer to home - something like this could be happening on your street. Inventive methods of dispatch which will please horror fans don't detract from this.

There are issues with lighting in the later part of the film which sometimes detract from the action. Occasional bits of leaden dialogue unbalance the tone, but in general the acting is good enough to compensate for weaknesses in the script. Although the latter part of the film is pretty routine horror stuff, it's stronger for the good work that has gone before it. Overall, The Neighbour treads familiar ground well, so can be forgiven the occasional slip - after all, one never knows what might be underfoot.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2016
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What is the guy next door doing in his basement?
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Director: Marcus Dunstan

Writer: Marcus Dunstan

Starring: Josh Stewart, Bill Engvall, Luke Edwards, Jaqueline Fleming

Year: 2016

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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