Judge Joel Pearce doesn't care how hot the girls next door are. If they don't turn their stereo down, he's calling the cops.
Some doors should never be opened.
Never quite confident enough to barge into the lurid territory it wants to inhabit, Next Door is nonetheless an effective and taut thriller, unafraid to explore dark corners of sexuality and violence.
John (Kristoffer Joner) gets dumped by his girlfriend, Ingrid (Anna Bache-Wiig). She has a new boyfriend now, and John is horrified when he learns that Ingrid has revealed to her new beau some of the terrible things that happened during their relationship. Still reeling from his loss, John is dragged into a series of strange encounters with the young attractive women next door, Anna (Cecilie A. Mosli) and Kim (Julia Schacht). John and Kim have sex, which ends up getting rough, and John begins to realize unpleasant truths about his own desires. When his experiences fall apart after that, he fears that he might be getting punished for those desires.
At a tight, clean 75 minutes, Next Door lasts just long enough to create a steamy, disturbing tone, spin us around a few times in a vaguely Lynchian way, then dump us into a slightly predictable but suitably unsettling ending. It features solid production values, particularly in terms of the cinematography, which almost but never quite gives us a clear sense of the apartment next door. We feel just as lost in this set as John does, and it works well.
The performances are excellent as well. Kristoffer Joner looks a lot like a young Kevin Bacon, and he has the perfect dour expression for John. At the beginning he just seems uptight and in a bit over his head, but he never strains credibility as he gradually turns into something else entirely. The supporting cast is strong as well, as the girls next door are never allowed to become pointless eye candy. These performances help us make it through the admittedly silly plot twists, which would be intolerable in the hands of a weak cast.
The script also offers a few surprises. The cover of Next Door looks quite lurid indeed, and I was half expecting a lame Norwegian skin thriller. As it turns out, few people will find themselves turned on by the gruesome sexuality displayed in the film, though it shines an unusually clear light on people who are turned on by unconventional and unpleasant things. This strength ends up being the film's greatest downfall as well, since it's almost impossible to connect with John on any meaningful level. We don't like him, but he's not shown in a harsh enough light for us to hate him either. I felt ambivalent towards John, even towards the end of the film. Thrillers work best when we are dragged into the film, caring deeply what happens to the hero. Here, I was left shrugging, feeling content that he got what he deserved in the end.
TLA releasing has put together a solid disc for Next Door, considering the low profile nature of the film. The cover, again, is a bit misleading, but the video transfer boasts a well-mastered 2.35:1 anamorphic image with excellent color and black levels. There are few noticeable artifacts, and the image rarely shows evidence that it came from a PAL master. The 5.1 track is clear, featuring strong separation and a wide sound stage. There are even a good collection of extras, including a production featurette, some interviews, and a look at the design for the set, which is one of the most impressive aspects of the film. Director Pal Sletaune approaches the project with a pleasant enthusiasm and sincerity, and it's clear that he has poured much of himself into this project.
His work has paid off. Next Door is an effective and chilling film, one that grips our attention for the full 75 minutes, whether we care about the main character or not. It's probably not worth a purchase for many, but anyone who likes Lynch and De Palma will probably want to give it a rental. It plays with the conventions of the genre, and uses the twisted physical space to create an even more twisted canvas of the mind.
The inhabitants of the apartment next door are found not guilty, so long as I never have to go there.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Production Featurette
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