The Good Neighbor (2016)

IMDB: [NR] A pair of mischievous high school kids create the illusion of a haunting on an unsuspecting elderly neighbor while keeping his every reaction under surveillance. A series of coincidences leads to tragedy.
***
Rating: [8] 💚💚💚💚💚💚💚💚🖤🖤

A down-tempo well done docu-style film brings us a new take in the vein of Rear Window. Two teens, Ethan and Sean, get wrapped up into a project studying humans but push the limits too far. This one went in a surprising direction and overall was much better than I expected. The documentary-style footage was done well composed, though the plot and writing stumbled in a few places. While slower moving it still kept me glued to the screen. Toss in some heavy emotions and we’ve got a winner.

What I Loved: 
The teen dialogue writing feels very natural, realistic, and casual. The acting holds the writing up to a great standard. It does a lot with minimal sets and characters. Plus, the homes also feel very real and lived-in.

It starts out on an interesting foot of making our protagonists not all that likeable. I mean, they’re trying to haunt an old man. So who should we be rooting for? The teens? The neighbor? The universe?

Overall though, I have to give it points for surprising me in some ways. While at certain spots I knew what would happen, there were twists along the way that I wasn’t fully expecting. I was extremely pleased with how the documentary-style footage was done. It involved minimal camera-shake. They set up cameras in such a way that it blended well into the main story from the audience perspective and what the teens were observing.

Bonus: A few funny film references – such as mentioning Mac and Me plus posters of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Night of the Living Dead, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and of course Reefer Madness. (Almost all have been riffed by MST3K, Rifftrax, or others.)

What I Didn’t Love:
For most movies we suspend some disbelief. But I found myself getting slightly annoyed with the magic of technology in this one. Some of the things done don’t really seem possible – or at least not possible in the way they were presented based on the underlying plot.

Plus there were a few moments with the writing that felt a bit too cliche in their presentation. For a movie that was otherwise interestingly done, those areas seemed a little lazy. At a certain points the tension dissolved because I knew what to expect.

Quote:
“People see what they’re looking for.”

Trope:
No Signal – Technology fails at the most inconvenient time for our characters and the most convenient time for the writers.

Spoilers: Click to Reveal

Alright! Now for spoilers! We’re introduced early that there’s a coinciding court case and someone is hurt or dead. While doing their “hauntings” and recording reactions they see a locked basement door.  The teens think that the neighbor, Harold Grainey has something sinister down there. Afterall, why never call the cops or electricians when weird stuff starts going on in his house. And why does he spend some much time down there?

Because of this the teens push the limits of the “experient” and their own friendship. As things progress, it goes beyond just breaking and entering and filming but the experiments get creepier. They also want to find their way into the basement. Ethan seems to have a grudge as Sean discovers that the neighbor, Grainey, helped Ethan’s mom get out of her abusive marriage. Thus Ethan still feels Grainey made his dad leave.

Cutting to the chase, Ethan (the “bad boy”) breaks in to get a camera that was knocked out of place and heads into the rarely unlocked basement. He discovers some medical gear and a big brass bell. As he picks it up, the old man, Grainey, awakens upstairs. Ethan, holding a gun and hides in the living room. And Grainey walks out with his own gun. But when Grainey sees the brass bell sitting on a sofa table – a last minute “haunting” idea by Ethan- he shoots himself.

Now, when Ethan had a gun it was pretty clear to me that Grainey would actually end up shooting himself. Because Ethan was far to obviously running around with a weapon.

But the nice twist – well, nice as in very depressing – is that the bell belonged to his wife. She died from cancer a dozen years prior and the bell was used to get his attention when she was sick. He had been alone in that house since, and presumably visiting her things in the basement. The bell was the last straw as many of the “hauntings” often triggered memories of his late wife.

Now, back in the courtroom, the boys are on trial. They were caught with the dead body and of course committed many crimes. Yet they are shown sympathy and get away mostly with probation and community service. Sean seems heartbroken by all of it. Ethan had previously talked about being famous. As Sean wades through reporters with his parents after the verdict, Ethan stands as cameras flash. A grin lifts on his face.

It’s a pretty nice little ending. Ethan had this preconceived notion that his neighbor must be a bad dude. But yet, the teens were honestly horrible to this guy. Plus, when push comes to shove Ethan is enjoying the limelight after all their crimes that would totally destroy most other people. They pushed him to suicide and Ethan’s soaking in the fame.

About halfway through is when I assumed more was going on than the obvious neighbor-is-bad plot. We see some flashbacks with his wife before she’s obviously sick. But it was an interesting take on what our perception of a situation is. And oh boy the scenes with his sick wife got to me. I’m extra sensitive as I deal with chronic illness myself and have had plenty of times were my husband had to be a shout or text message away when I was recovering from surgery or otherwise sick.

We see that Grainey really cared for his wife. He wasn’t at all a bad guy, if a bit rough around the edges. Ethan on the other hand seems to feel pride rather than guilt as reporters are begging for his statement.