John (Stewart) and wife Rosie (Essoe) are entry level crooks working for the former’s uncle, a Southern cowboy in every sense who runs his small town like a big city kingpin. Desperate to escape their lives’ monotony the couple are trying to save enough cash to escape for good until a casual flirtation with a little routine voyeurism brings more trouble down than they could have imagined.
Experienced writer Marcus Dunstan seems to have finally discovered his directing chops with The Neighbour. The opening act is a brooding blend of mystery and misdirection, as all the main characters are introduced without any real insight being offered as to their individual motives. The middle act, when neighbour Troy (Engvall) begins to reveal his secrets becomes a claustrophobic thriller in the style of a home invasion horror. It is in the final act that Dunstan’s previous credits as the writer of several Saw films come to the fore, as extremes are hinted at, but remain in the whole cleverly unused, as The Neighbour picks up the pace to leave you just a little breathless.
There is a certain amount of familiarity to Dunstan’s film, and many scenes that will remind an experienced horror fan of several others from Hostel to Rear Window. But in truth, that doesn’t really matter here. It isn’t always what you include but how you do it, and Dunstan has created more than enough malevolent portent and unsettling uncertainty to keep you guessing despite the standard horror tropes. The pacing is key to this, as once the film gets into its stride, it rarely lets up. There are few opportunities to catch your breath as John and Rosie stumble from one situation to the next, as more and more neighbouring nastiness is discovered.
With a heritage in the same vein as You’re Next or Intruders, The Neighbour fits smoothly into the formulaic siege-like horror draw. The difference here is in the stylish direction that creates a constant air of suspense, overly violent interludes that are as brutal as they are surprising, and performances that never miss a beat even when the tension threatens to overpower the story.
If you only see one more thriller-set-in-a-house-and-then-bad-things-happen film this year, make it The Neighbour. As an example of what can be done with this popular sub-genre, it is about as good as it gets.
THE NEIGHBOUR / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MARCUS DUNSTAN / SCREENPLAY: MARCUS DUNSTAN, PATRICK MELTON / STARRING: JOSH STEWART, ALEX ESSOE, BILL ENGVALL, LUKE EDWARDS, MELISSA BOLONA / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 31ST