Director: Marcus Dunstan
Writer: Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton
Stars: Josh Stewart, Alex Essoe, Bill Engvall
Director Marcus Dunstan and his writing partner Patrick Melton have many horror films under their belt (Feast, Piranha 3D), but they seem to have made a cottage industry out of films that feature rundown buildings full of rooms that house complex death traps and lots of victims. Yes, these men are responsible for Saw 4, 5, 6 and 7, The Collector and The Collection. Their newest film, The Neighbor, stars Josh Stewart, everyone’s favorite anti-hero Arkin from The Collector and The Collection, and it does feature a house with multiple underground rooms, but don’t be so quick to write this movie off as yet another entry into the torture porn canon.
The opening of the film utilizes a music video esthetic to set the tone and, strangely, it works. Sometimes, this can feel cheap or tacked on, but it works perfectly here. We are immediately tuned in to the fact that Johnny (Stewart) is a drug runner who also happens to have served in the military. He and his girlfriend, Rosie (Alex Essoe of Starry Eyes) are living on a ranch owned by Johnny’s uncle where they receive the payments on drug runs. In fact, this small town seems to hide a lot of nefarious activity and Johnny’s neighbor is also up to no good, but what kind?
The neighbor in question, Troy, is played by Bill Engvall and he’s a revelation. Up to this point, I only knew him as one of “those Blue Collar Comedy guys”, but he’s so much more than that. Troy shows up on Johnny and Rosie’s porch one night and introduces himself. After spotting the telescope that Rosie seems to be addicted to, he quips that he has one as well, but uses it to watch his neighbors. The entire exchange is a little bit creepy, but not enough to get too upset over. Basically, we have two houses out in an isolated area where both parties are involved in some sort of shady behavior, but how will the two cross paths and what will the outcome be?
After Rosie witnesses something she shouldn’t have via the telescope she shouldn’t have been looking through, the cat and mouse game begins and it’s not what you’re expecting. At it’s most basic level, The Neighbor is a movie that finds Stewart navigating an underground maze of doors that all have unhappy things behind them, but that’s where the similarities to previous films from Dunstan and Melton end. Although Dunstan still insists on utilizing candy colored lighting, he has also crafted a movie that looks and feels so much more mature and emotionally complex than anything else on his resume.
As Johnny explores this cellar full of unknowns, the tension is palpable and his take charge (military experience) attitude lends him a composure that allows us to feel confidant that he can handle anything that might come up, but Troy is so creepy that you wonder how much everyone will have to endure and who will make it out alive. As more players are introduced, more information unfolds and it would be no fun to reveal what’s happening in Troy’s home.
While The Neighbor isn’t doing anything new, it’s refreshing to see a team bring us something different than what we expect of them. Less horror and more thriller, this movie has only a few cringe inducing scenes and focuses more on the characters and the choices they make. It comes as no surprise that Essoe does a wonderful job playing a strong woman and Engvall really is a sight to see. Stewart’s bedroom eyes, southern drawl and quiet intensity ground everything and, again, he’s an anti-hero that you really want to see succeed. The Neighbor is not what I expected and I say that as a high compliment.
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