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Good Neighbors

Dir: Jacob Tierney

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Magnolia Pictures

99 Minutes

Though billed as a black comedy, it’s difficult to know what to make of Good Neighbors. It’s not particularly funny, except in the driest possible sense. It’s certainly dark, but more in the sense of the horror of watching a man have alleyway sex with a corpse, doggy style than in terms of black satire. And it’s not really a psychological thriller – though it does deal with a serial killer raping and murdering his way through a Montreal neighborhood, it’s not really concerned with catching him or even hiding his identity. So what kind of movie is Good Neighbors?

Well, here’s the premise: a young man named Victor (Jay Baruchel playing his trademark awkwardness to the max) moves into an apartment building in his native Montreal after a stint teaching in China and tries to make friends with his new neighbors. In particular, he stammeringly introduces himself to Louise (Emily Hampshire), a quiet young woman devoted to her two cats, and to Spencer, a toothily handsome man confined to a wheelchair and a room filled with eerily glowing aquariums. Louise spends time each day clipping out articles on the Montreal serial killer and discussing them with Spencer; but when a coworker disappears late at night, she asks Victor to walk her home and a one-sided relationship blossoms. To this cast of characters, there’s also added a noisy, drunken Francophone a floor above and a gossipy landlady, but the trio is the primary focus. Essentially every other character either acts as a catalyst or as an observer for them.

Part of what makes Good Neighbors so difficult to define as a movie is that its intentions are so murky. Are we meant to identify with any of these characters? They’re all unpleasant to greater or lesser degrees. Spencer is a ball of passive aggressive rage directed towards no one and everyone; Victor is nebbishy beyond belief, even lying to his own brother that Louise and he are engaged; Louise herself is apparently sociopathic. While it’s not impossible to engage with unlikable characters (and many a fine film is stronger for it), the audience just has no reason to want to know more about these people. Their motivations are sketchily drawn at best and even the closing gambit of betrayal and death is abrupt and inconclusive to the point of incomprehensibility.

In adapting Chrystine Brouillet’s novel Chère Voisine, writer/director Jacob Tierney seems to have made a decision to keep both the action and his cameras glacial until they suddenly shift for little apparent reason. Visually, this means the shot tends to drift back and forth across still rooms and conversations, occasionally broken by a jump cut. As a narrative, the story moves incredibly slowly while also not giving us much insight into why the characters are doing what they are doing. There’s a killer, but while the gruesomeness of his murders is emphasized, we don’t know his victims or his motives. Another character commits their own crimes, but these are so inconsistent with the circumstances and so out of nowhere that it just becomes a “wtf?” moment. Similarly, a seemingly important subplot involving a used condom and a violently utilized sex toy is dropped and never addressed again, leaving one wondering why it was even brought up in the first place. So what does all this come down to? What kind of movie is Good Neighbors? Mostly just a slow and incoherent one.

by Nathan Kamal

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