If you’ve watched anything on cable in the past couple weeks, you might have seen the trailer for the new film The Neighbor, a horror film out this week from Marcus Dunstan, the man behind the Saw sequels, and starring comedian Bill Engvall in his first truly dark and dramatic role. Having seen the film, and keeping this trailer in mind, it’s actually rather difficult to talk about this movie without giving too much away.
Trailers are an interesting aspect of the movie-going experience. They very often wind up shaping how we feel about a movie overall. If it highlighted something that ultimately wasn’t in that much of the movie, like The Joker in Suicide Squad, we leave the theater disappointed. If the trailer shows too much of the plot, like with last summer’s disastrous Terminator Genysis, we feel ripped off that we’ve seen the whole movie now before we even bought a ticket.
A more recent yet just as frustrating trend, however, is for trailers to just straight up show the ending of a movie out of context to promote the film. About halfway through the latest X-Men movie, for example, we all realized that the cool scenes we’ve seen in the trailers (Jennifer Lawrence leading the young team) hadn’t happened yet, and wouldn’t happen until the team is reunited again… at the end of the movie. We’d been spoiled by the very thing that made us want to see it in the first place. When the movie finished and that scene came up, any sense of surprise or excitement was gone, because we literally already saw it coming. This kind of mismarketing is usually reserved to expand a more indescribable movie to a wider audience by twisting one interesting moment into seeming like it represents the movie as a whole. Unfortunately, The Neighbor is another example of that X-Men Apocalypse marketing strategy, as that preview has very little to do with most of the film.
In the vaguest and most carefully worded terms I can manage, The Neighbor tells the story of a young couple who are wrapped up in the underground drug trade and just one job away from being out of the business for good. Unfortunately for them, their mysterious neighbor, played by Bill Engvall, has secrets of his own, and seems to know more about their business than he lets on. Things then take a turn for the spooky when our heroes finally go next door and have to confront this sinister figure in the neighborhood.
It seems that’s about all I can say about the plot. Clearly, this was very different than the movie I was told to expect.They spend about a solid hour at the top of the film exploring the character’s lives and motivations before any kind of action or suspense kicks in. While under different circumstances a structure like this might work to the benefit of a story, The Neighbor does not seem to actually be interested in its plot, making this first hour feel like it’s just killing time until the end. Much like the marketing I’ve been complaining about, the whole movie seems to really just want to get right to that violent climax and just trudge through the story, which ultimately made for a rather unexciting film overall.
The ad campaign suggests that this is a graphic and disturbing movie more in line with the other works of director Dunstan, like Saw IV or The Collector, when in reality, it’s actually a far more suspense driven, psychological scare the film is after. The torture and violence the previews promise doesn’t actually start up until the very end of the movie, and even then it’s under wildly different circumstances than you’ve been sold. I would, therefore, imagine that fans of the filmmaker’s previous work might find themselves ultimately disappointed by the relatively tame Neighbor. Personally, I like my horror to be less reliant on blood and more on atmosphere, so I was a bit pleasantly surprised by what the movie actually turned out to be. That being said, I still wish they accomplished it better. Films like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, manage to slowly build up to crazy violence without boring the audience during the first act of the story. The Neighbor seemed to move too ahead of itself, always focused on what’s coming next as opposed to the scene right now.
While the visuals, editing, and performances are all strong, none of them are able to make the poorly structured script exciting. The Neighbor is a rather unexciting thriller.
Rating: 2 out of 5