Neighbor (Movie Review)

Tor's rating: ★ ½ Director: Robert A. Masciantonio | Release Date: 2009

Well, America Olivo looks good in the promo materials for “Neighbor”. She doesn’t possess the bustier battering brilliance she had in “Bitch Slap” but the blood splattered look becomes her. In fact, if I made a list of magnificently proportioned film maidens I’d most like to see caked and spackled with dried plasma Ms. Olivo would be in the Top 29 every time. For transparency’s sake, Monica Bellucci would be number 1, and if you need to ask why then you were born without sex organs, pity that.

“Neighbor” introduces Olivo’s character “The Girl” as she finishes off a young couple she has bound and gagged in their affluent suburban home. We hear via a background TV that a murderous inmate is on the loose from a local asylum, could this be our girl? The Girl moves on and eventually settles in for a long night of torture with a young musician, Don, who believes her to be nothing more than a P.A. that he found on Craigslist.

Shortly after the spirited torment begins in Don’s basement Don and the movie fall into an unexplained rift in the galactic superstructure. Whilst inside this multi-dimensional spacetime anomaly, the viewer is presented with a series of possible outcomes as well as extended extrapolations from those outcomes. Once freed from the confines of the philosophically bereft “Run Lola Run” interlude the audience is returned to the basement where Don is tied up with his friend who works in a bookstore. She dies, more people come over and die and at the end there is a group of dead people. There is never anything that smells like an explanation for that self-indulgent series of flash forwards and what ifs in the middle of the story (term used loosely).

Believe it or not, I was really looking forward to “Neighbor”. I now find myself in the position of hoping that valuable production monies are not wasted in bringing “Neighbor 2” to market. The problems are myriad but most of them can be boiled down to an old Hollywood adage. When it comes to movies there are three attributes that creative teams have to juggle: cheap, fast and good. You can have two out of three but never all three at once. If “Neighbor” was made with this triumvirate in mind then cheap and fast won out. The evidence for this is overwhelming.

The story is a one dimensional idea more than any kind of narrative. The performances are woeful and embarrassing and the technical side of the film is a veritable shitstorm of corner-cutting ineptitude. The thing that isn’t present in “Neighbor” that could have made all these shortfalls more palatable is a pulse. Outside of the gore, nothing has any life to it.

All of the blame for this lands squarely at the feet of director Robert A. Masciantonio. Long flat shots that allow middling performers to struggle, and negligible production design are two things that connote a lack of vision. "Neighbor” is also a mess tonally. A director has to do extensive work with his actors, and deliberate with his crew to sculpt light and choose angles in order to ensure that shifts in mien are balanced and motivated. Calling “Neighbor”’s tone shifts caddywhompus would be a great kindness. The problems don’t end there. America Olivo doesn’t sell crazy-shallow here as seems to be the dark, comic intent of the film. Instead she’s just cycling through facial expressions and indicating like hell. Often it seems like Olivo’s simultaneously looking at and trying not to look at the camera. There are long sections of ping-pong dialog that are poorly written and that bad writing degrades even more in the mouths of lost actors who are, again locked in a single uninteresting angle. If I am inclined to give Masciantonio credit I’d say he just failed at trying for some Jim Jarmusch/ Wes Anderson styled framing. If I am feeling chippy I’d have to say that whole thing smells like it was made up on the fly as filler to pad in around the gory set-pieces.

That gore is the lone bright spot in “Neighbor”. Where FX man Vincent Guastini isn’t hamstrung by time and budgetary constraints he manages some uncomfortable looking torment. But even these effects carry with them a bit of a slap to the audience. The close-ups of a glass rod being forced down Don’s urethra, finger severing and patella abscission are all lovingly shot and well lit. The fact that they knew how to set lights and depth of field to manage mood, but chose not to do so during most of the rest of the film is an insult to the viewer.

In the end I’d say I was even disappointed by “Neighbor”’s promo materials, not for their look but for one more broken promise. America Olivo is never very sexy and she’s not slathered in bodily fluid. She isn’t even provocatively clad during the movie. This would have been fine if the promise of such things hadn’t been the sole reason I kept watching beyond the 20 minute mark. The good news is that if you are one of those folks that were born without male or female parts “Neighbor:” has a really good scene of weenie savagery in it. It is also devoid of any sexiness, sexual tension, sexual politics or even a sextet of sexy sextegenerians holding sextants, in other words nothing that would be made better by having your naughty bits present when you watch.



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