Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Director: Marcus Dunstan
Writer: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan
Producer: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton, Patrick Rizzotti, Brett Forbes
Stars: Josh Stewart, Alex Essoe, Melissa Bolona, Skipp Sudduth, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Luke Edwards, Bill Engvall
A couple struggling to escape their criminal lifestyle discovers their mysterious neighbor is hiding a dark secret of his own.
John’s rural Mississippi home hides a secret. The garage out back is actually a waypoint where criminals making runs for John’s uncle Neil can bandage wounds, drop deliveries, or have license plates swapped before returning to the road. John and his girlfriend Rosie hope to get out from under Uncle Neil’s thumb and start a better life somewhere else. For now, they make do as middle management in an operation best kept quiet.
John’s neighbor Troy has a secret, too. Rosie often spies on Troy through a telescope out of boredom, though neither she nor John knows quite what to make of the reclusive man. Then one day, John innocuously returns a wayward trashcan to Troy’s lawn, inspiring the two men to finally meet face to face.
Troy is wary of anyone setting foot on his property. A six-pack of beer and a sit-down on John’s couch suggest the minor trespass is forgiven. But Troy sets a tone that he is not to be trifled with when he hints that he knows what John does in his garage. Now John is one step closer to discovering what Troy does in his home. Because when Rosie ends up mysteriously missing, John suspects his neighbor’s house is the first place he should look. And what John discovers inside Troy’s cellar is set to turn furtive neighbors into fearsome foes.
Penned by “Feast” co-writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, with Dunstan also assuming directorial duties, “The Neighbor” is a spiritual successor of sorts to the pair’s “The Collector” and “The Collection” movies. Melton and Dunstan’s original script for “The Neighbor” actually predates the release of those two films, though its home invasion horror meets crime thriller setup bears enough thematic similarities to feel as though it belongs in the same family.
What “The Neighbor” shares in common with “The Collector” and “The Collection,” aside from featuring star Josh Stewart as a crook creeping around a potential killer’s threatening lair, is a sense of suspense built on nailbiting moments of hushed tiptoeing punctuated by visceral violence. It’s formulaic, but that recipe has brought success to Melton and Dunstan more than once before, so there is no overwhelming desire to deviate too far from that norm on this go.
The real revelation of “The Neighbor” is blue-collar comic Bill Engvall’s surprising turn as adversarial antagonist. Engvall subtly states Troy’s distrustful demeanor with simple stature and a steely gaze that suggests staying away without explicitly telling you why. Troy doesn’t mug for the camera or display the kind of cocky overconfidence that often characterizes this kind of powder keg villain. Engvall works the psychological side of his role to be more quietly discomforting than overtly suspicious. It’s an intelligent way to portray a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and an inventive way to invert expectations of Engvall being an amiable funnyman.
Even in a movie whose title refers to his character, Engvall ends up not featured enough. The same holds true for Alex Essoe of “Starry Eyes” (review here), playing more of a plot device than equally developed partner to Josh Stewart’s John. Most of the secondary characters are underdeveloped, appearing onscreen just long enough to fulfill a perfunctory function before promptly fading from the plot altogether.
Backstory and more exposition would only get in the way of those aforementioned moments of silent stalking, which make up much of the movie. Momentum finally picks up during the runtime’s last third, though the downside is that nearly all of it relies exclusively on brutal beatings and tossing people around to fill the screen with action.
When “The Neighbor” goes by the book, it ends up with clichéd shots like a slow-motion strut in front of a burning fire. When director Marcus Dunstan opts to be less predictable on the creativity front, the movie becomes tangled in several strange cinematic choices along the way.
First act transitions for instance, feature grainy film footage showing glimpses of scenes yet to come or random shots of flies collecting on roadkill. Other than possibly aiming to inject an artificial “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” vibe, Dunstan’s exact intent to disorient with such a technique is unclear. Also peculiar is an odd selection of licensed music that doesn’t gel with the imagery it accompanies, or the substitution of record player static in place of a song over end credits.
Anchored by Bill Engvall’s strong showing, “The Neighbor” nevertheless conjures enough entertainment value to satisfy those swayed by the established style of Melton, Dunstan, and Josh Stewart’s previous collaborations. It’s just that in a market flooded by suburban siege horror films such as “Don’t Breathe” (review here), “Intruders” (review here), “You’re Next” (review here), “The Blood Lands” (review here), etc., there isn’t enough variation in that style for “The Neighbor” to stand out as more than average.
Review Score: 60