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Movie Review: The Neighbors

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 9, 2011

Pretty girl and nicely dressed man flirt with each other on a couch

It’s a tricky road to navigate: Keeping an audience interested throughout an intentionally mundane film that’s nothing except a flat measured pace to a dramatic conclusion. Slow builds are usually a nice thing, but too slow, especially when that’s 95% of your short movie, and a director risks losing the viewer’s interest. Plus, for those who put the time in waiting to see the conclusion, well, that ending had better be a good one.

Christopher Werner’s The Neighbors chronicles an average suburban dinner get together between two couples, Heather (Sandy Kim) & Patrick (Bernhard Forcher) and Amber (Taryn Matusik) & Matthew (Robert Grant). There’s nothing extraordinary about them, other than Heather and Patrick living in a spacious McMansion. The extended dialogue-free opening credits sequence shows each of them getting ready, putting on clothes, cooking the meal, etc.

It’s a long opening with not much happening. All of it is shot and lit nicely by cinematographer Tara Siragusa, but the framing, nor the lighting, is overly stylized or interesting either. When there is eventually dialogue, at first it’s fairly perfunctory. Even the first scene with Heather and Patrick is a bit stiff and awkward, the script just filling some time with some words so we can get a sense of who these characters are.

It’s also difficult through all this to figure out what genre of film we’re watching. However, it’s through that inability to peg anything down concretely that it does begin to feel as if Werner is being coy with us, that the lack of dramatic tension is exactly the point. In that, we understand that the film is a mystery, not that the characters are solving anything, but that the audience is supposed figure out where the events are headed.

Again, that’s the tricky part. A third of the film goes by before Werner starts dropping more interesting clues for us to hook into. That’s a good ways in, but the patient ones who stick around are rewarded with a slowly escalating sexual tension between the couples.

Both the pre-dinner set-up and the actual dinner scenes are extremely ordinary, but after the meal the couples oddly split up that seem entirely inappropriate for the average suburbanites we’ve been watching. Heather and Matthew head off to another section of the house while Amber curls up on the living room couch next to Patrick.

The tension isn’t overwhelming, in fact it might be on the too subdued side. But, at least the characters — and perhaps even the actors themselves — are more relaxed and comfortable when split up from their spouses. There’s a more flirtatious lilt to the women’s voices, and the men place a gentle hand on their shoulders.

So, at this point, it’s obvious there’s only one or two directions Werner can go with this, neither of which is going to end up good for anybody. The one thing a viewer does hope is that the director can at least put a significant twist to what we’re increasingly pretty sure how the film will end.

The ending isn’t a major shocker, but has some not expected elements. However, the film would have been a bit better served if there had been some meaning behind the events we saw unfold. Not in a literal way, but in a social commentary kind of way.

As it is, The Neighbors is an interesting little thriller. For myself, the pacing worked out just fine as I felt my own interest staying engaged as the story and character interaction progressed. It’s subtle, but those paying attention will pick up on the odder, intentionally out-of-place elements that get casually dropped in and perhaps enjoy the process of trying to figure it all out.