In all likelihood, you’ve never even heard of Jacob Tierney’s Good Neighbors, and if you have, it’s probably because you’ve heard that the film features Jay Baruchel (who generally appears in films playing characters that can best be described as “a real-life Professor Frink from The Simpsons”) in a rare (somewhat) dramatic role. Or maybe you’re a Scott Speedman megafan, and the film ended up on your radar that way. Doesn’t matter. Point is, we’re talking about Good Neighbors now, and if you’ll join me after the jump, I’ll tell you why the film’s worth a rental (if not a purchase).
When Collider’s latest round of films-for-review showed up on my doorstep, I picked through the contents without much excitement: here was Albert Pyun’s sure-to-be-awful Captain America, here was the pro-vegetarian documentary Forks Over Knives, and—last and quite possibly least—here was Good Neighbors, a film I’d heard about only because it apparently featured Jay “How to Train Your Dragon (in Jerry Lewis’ voice)” Baruchel in what I’d heard was a “rare dramatic turn”. To say that I wasn’t enthused by these selections would be accurate, but I was also hoping to be taken by surprise.
The other two films both turned out to be a bit of a wash, but I’m pleased to report that Tierney’s Good Neighbors took me completely by surprise. Not too long ago, I picked up A Horrible Way to Die on Blu-ray (based on the recommendation of a fellow online writer) and found myself pleasantly—and morbidly—caught off guard by that film’s ending. While Good Neighbors’ ending isn’t quite as out-of-left-field as that film’s was, it would be fair to say that there are many other moments in Tierney’s film that are equally surprising: this one has a few things to show you that you’ve probably not seen on film before. I’ve seen thousands of films over the years, so the fact that I’m employing that phrase here should not be taken lightly.
The setup here sounds familiar, and for the first twenty or thirty minutes of the film, you’re going to be reasonably sure that you know where it’s all headed. An apartment building in Quebec plays home to a trio of damaged-goods types: Louise (Emily Hampshire), who lives upstairs from the wheelchair-bound Spencer (Scott Speedman), and Victor (Baruchel), who Louise and Spencer meet in the hallway one morning while discussing the serial killer’s latest bit of handiwork.
Louise, we learn, is obsessed with two things: the pair of cats she lives with and the local, ongoing serial murders. Every day, she wakes up, feeds her precious felines, and goes over the killer’s latest crime with Spencer after sharing her morning paper with him. Once Victor moves into the building, though, this casual routine gets interrupted. Not only does Victor develop the hots for Louise, but it also starts to become apparent that some—if not all—of these characters are who they appear to be.
Saying anything more would be spoiling the fun, but rest assured that we find out who the killer is, what each of these tenants are hiding, and how they’re all going to co-exist (or co-…uh…die?) once their secrets start revealing themselves. About half an hour into the film, I was sure I knew where it was going. Hell, I even thought I had the killer pegged. Turned out, I was right, but the stuff I didn’t see coming was twice as interesting, twice as unexpected.
I know that it’s a bummer to read a review like this, because you really have nothing more to go on than my word, so let me offer you one “for instance”. Be forewarned that—though I’ll keep the specific character’s identity secret—I’m about to reveal a massively unexpected moment from the film. If that sounds too spoilery for your tastes, skip on down to the next paragraph. For the rest of you, here’s this personal anecdote: at one point while watching Good Neighbors, I got up to take a leak and let my dog out into the backyard. Moments later, when I returned, one of the film’s characters was frantically copulating with a corpse in an alley. Yeah, that’s right: dead body f’in—it happens in Good Neighbors.
And lemme tell ya: it’s enthusiastic.
The film’s clearly not been made for a lot of money, but Tierney uses the limited budget—and its limited locations– to his advantage. Most of the action takes place in two or three places (though based on a novel, I can easily imagine this film as a stage production), and Tierney also gets a lot out of some very effective blood-related effects in the film. And—for that matter—a dildo. But I’ve already said too much.
Look, Good Neighbors isn’t going to end up on my top ten list at the end of the year, but it’s got a lot going for it simply by not being as bad as the film’s title and DTV-looking cover box would lead you to believe. It’s atmospheric, darkly funny (sometimes hilariously so), features some really solid twists, and offers up a few situations and character developments that I can virtually guarantee you’ve never seen on film before. For those reasons, I’m absolutely recommending this film as a rental.
But a purchase? Well, that all depends on how often you think you’d revisit such a film. For me, the film was worth one spin, but probably not two. The “Bonus Features” are sub-par—there’s a single deleted scene you wouldn’t watch more than once, a behind-the-scenes feaurette/press kit, and a theatrical trailer—and the ending’s a little weak. The film’s presented in 1080p, so it looks good, and the 5.1 DTS-HD audio’s solid, but neither are impressive enough that you’d use the disc as a demo.
Rent. Don’t buy. And be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by what you find here. I’ll be looking out for whatever Tierney does next.
My Grade? B