J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Good Neighbor: Invading Home and Privacy

The scariest thing about this new thriller is the ease with which two teens acquire and illegally install a comprehensive surveillance system in the house across the street. Sean, the one with the technical know-how echoes that sentiment during their shopping spree. His more popular pal Ethan has the auterist vision for their so-called “experiment.” They intend to make grouchy old Harold Grainey believe he is haunted. At least he has it coming—or does he? The more we see, the more uncomfortable we get during Kasra Farahani’s The Good Neighbor (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Old Man Grainey has his set patterns, so the lads know exactly when he will be out of the house and for how long. In addition to the cameras, they also set up various remote control switches to give the illusion of uncanny things acting up in the night. Ethan has a very definite idea of who Grainey is, but it might not be precisely true.

Regardless, their haunting effects might be working too well. As we learn from the flashbacks, the objects they chose to spook-up have particular significance for Grainey. The fact that the film periodically flashes forward to a criminal trial certainly suggests the onset of complications, but Farahani will not reveal who is being prosecuted for what until the third act.

It is nice to see an old cat like James Caan can still surprise us. Grainey’s suburban ranch house gone to seed is worlds removed from the Playboy Mansion grotto, but he truly looks like he belongs there. Yet, he slowly but steadily upends all our assumptions in a quietly powerful performance. As Sean, Keir Gichrest (It Follows, Dark Summer) continues to be the go to guy for socially awkward teens caught up in sinister business. However, Logan Miller’s Ethan is so abrasively obnoxious, it undermines Farahani’s carefully calibrated tonal shifts. It is also frustrating that fan favorite Tamlyn Tomita is not featured more as the prosecutor.

As one would expect from a film directed by an art director-concept artist, Neighbor’s sets and trappings are totally spot on. Production designer Margret Box’s attention to detail makes Grainey’s home look sad by daylight and ominous at night. At the risk of being spoilery, Mark Binculli & Jeff Richard’s screenplay provides a sharp corrective to Don’t Breathe. Frankly, Can’s standout performance makes Neighbor the better film. Recommended for fans of the Misery actor and dark thrillers, The Good Neighbor opens this Friday (9/16), at the Cinema Village.