Lionsgate // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 26th, 2010
Won't you be mine?
There's something very powerful about boiling a genre down to its essence and presenting the simplest form possible. It works well with one- or two-person dramas and gritty film noir. It's particularly effective with horror films. In fact, horror seems to go through cycles, where a particular subgenre gets more and more baroque, adding in new elements or taking old ones further and further until somebody comes along to strip everything back to the bone and show audiences what the genre is about. Neighbor seems to be aiming for the latter, offering fans of so-called torture porn a film that's almost pure torture from opening to closing. Although that's sure to please fans of cinematic sadism, Neighbor also shows the dark side of trying to boil down a genre: there's a very serious risk that by jettisoning the familiar trappings, the audience won't have anything to hold onto. Neighbor rides that line, risking the loss of audience attention through excessive bodily harm and severe narrative minimalism.
Neighbor follows an unrepentant psychopath known only as the Girl (America Olivio, Bitch Slap). She infiltrates people's lives, and then tortures and kills them. Specifically for this story, she gets involved with musician Don (Christian Campbell, The Betrayed). She kidnaps him, tortures him horrifically, and then slowly draws his friends in so she can torture and kill them as well.
The name of the game with Neighbor is brutal simplicity. The film's first few moments introduce us to the Girl and her M.O. She's killed most of a family, and the one surviving member is tied up, and she tortures him to death. We then cut to Don and his situation, which involves an on-again, off-again girlfriend and a band. He's taken on a production assistant via the Internet, and it just happens to be The Girl. She gets Don alone, ties him up, and the proceeds to torture him in some horrific ways. For instance, she drills holes in his legs. That's bad enough, but then she drops an earthworm into the holes. The film (at least in this "unrated director's cut") contains some of the most graphic genital mutilation on a guy I've ever seen in the genre. This really is a gorehound's delight. The effects are handled pretty convincingly, with plenty of blood and tissue to go around. Once Don's been tortured, it's time to kill his friends, and they're dispatched in quick and clever ways while the Girl keeps Don alive. Luckily, the kills and the Girl's general attitude keep the tone darkly comic rather than grim. Neighbor is a film that knows the genre and isn't afraid to aim for the cheap seats with loads of gore and sly film references.
I really wanted to like Neighbor for America Olivio's performance (which is dark and funny in equal measure) and the overwhelming amount of attention lavished on the gore. However, the lack of any real plot or character development makes Neighbor hard to love. The total lack of backstory for the Girl, coupled with other main characters who aren't sympathetic enough to care about or bad enough to want to see punished, make Neighbor hard to sit through. There is a clever bit about halfway through the film that brings the horror of the torture even more soundly home, but overall the narrative lacks any kind of drive or tension. No one can really stand up to the Girl (who apparently went to the Patrick Bateman school of serial killing), so it's all torture, torture, torture. After a while it was hard to care.
I suspect that my reference to "most graphic genital mutilation" would make this point: If you're at all of a squeamish nature, this absolutely, totally is not the movie for you. It's not the most realistic gore movie ever, but the effects are good enough to turn most viewers' stomachs.
Despite its low budget origins and limited appeal beyond gorehounds, Neighbor gets a pretty solid DVD release. The transfer is effective, with a decent amount of detail, a muted color scheme, and strong blacks. The surround audio keeps the dialogue up front, and the surrounds get some use during the more frenetic scenes. The extras start with a commentary featuring director Robert Angelo Masciantonio and producer Charles St. John. This track is heavy on the hows and whys of the film. The second commentary is by Dr. Karen Oughton, a lecturer in media studies. She breaks the film down just about shot by shot and discusses the themes and motifs. Honestly, it sounds a bit like she's taking the piss, but she keeps a straight enough face and gives enough depth about the film to make it a believable, if somewhat repetitive, listen. We then get featurettes on the film's special effects and fight scene, as well as a more general overview with interviews. There's also a gag reel, music video, and trailer gallery to round the disc out.
Neighbor sets the bar pretty high in terms of gore, but the lack of narrative drive makes the film a chore to sit through as torture after torture passes by in a blur. Obviously this disc is only for hardened gore fans and the most intrepid of viewers, and they will be satisfied. Those looking for character development or a strong story will likely be disappointed.
The trial of Neighbor resulted in a hung jury, and the court has no desire to retry any time soon.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Music Video
* Gag Reel