Studio: Generic Pictures
Director: Giancarlo Ruiz
Writer: Giancarlo Ruiz
Producer: Giancarlo Ruiz
Stars: Paco Mufote, Isabelle Orizaga, Sergio Valdez, Joseph J. Stephen
A delusional man obsessed with his married neighbors takes drastic action to live out his deranged fantasies.
Had I not heard ahead of time that “The Neighbor” was entirely improvised from a vague idea, I would have assumed cast and crew weren’t working with any sort of outline at all. The experimental Spanish-language drama/thriller seems to have simply turned on a camera and cut its final footage together the same way Jackson Pollock created a painting: dumping everything on the floor and then questionably calling the serendipitous splatter “art.”
Shot in 2011, yet premiering in 2017, “The Neighbor” is a chaotically conceived mess of a movie. Only four other people attended my screening. Two of them walked out of the theater mid-movie, never to return. One of those two left within the first few minutes, rightly realizing early on that there was no evidence to suggest anything would improve.
The “story,” which is really more of a loose setup, centers on Raul, a disturbed man who lives alone in an unfurnished apartment above troubled married couple Alejandro and Alejandra. Raul’s obsession with his downstairs neighbors involves violent fantasies, stealing panties from the clothesline outside, and bugging their home to eavesdrop on every conversation. Raul goes so far that he kidnaps Alejandra and holds her hostage upstairs to turn his twisted fantasies into a warped reality.
It’s amazing that even this much sense can be made out of the narrative. Most scenes put no more thought into what purpose they serve than one puts into how long to microwave a slice of leftover pizza.
Raul runs a few laps around his room in his underwear. Raul lies down on the building’s roof while holding an assault rifle. A Bible salesman solicits Raul on the street. At one point, a dog strayed into frame and I found his wagging tail immediately more eye-catching than any “action” taking place in the foreground. When the most interesting thing onscreen is a restless animal not even meant to be there, there is a crippling audience captivation problem.
Director Giancarlo Ruiz repeatedly reuses footage by having Raul rewind, then replay snippets of the couple’s recorded conversations over and over, again and again. High-pitched audio scrambles and constant flickers from reversing imagery grate past the point of minor annoyance to become outright obnoxious. How many insert shots of a finger pressing cassette player buttons does one film need? How many does an audience want to watch?
Stuck in a student film style, other terrible techniques include intentionally out of synch audio. Sometimes this is because audio is played at different speeds than the video. Sometimes this is due to simple carelessness posing as creativity. “The Neighbor” pretends to be a character study, yet includes one scene where a conversation plays entirely in still frames, as if actors are in any way able to explore personalities when their performances play out in static imagery.
Being unconventional does not automatically equal being bold. Risks taken by “The Neighbor” to do things out of aimless uncertainty result in poor editing, poorer camerawork (some of which looks to have been shot on a first generation smartphone), and a confused end product with no quantifiable value as entertainment or as art.
Where someone mistook soft focus cinematography, nonsensical scene inclusions, nonlinear arrangement, and a nonexistent story as avant-garde artistry, an audience sees noncommercial claptrap. What should be a mercifully short 75-minute runtime becomes an interminable eternity of futile wishing for the film to finally stop its uncontrolled pointlessness.
I guess I’ll give “The Neighbor” one star out of five on the grounds that it technically qualifies as a movie. More or less. Mostly less.
If nothing else, the film fooled at least one programmer into including it in a festival. That’s an accomplishment of some sort. Though five gets you five thousand that even if a distributor sees it the same way that programmer did, casual viewers expecting some semblance of satisfaction certainly won’t.
NOTE: The film’s Spanish title is “El Vecino.”
Review Score: 20