Good Neighbors (2011) Review

How well do we really know our neighbors? That’s the question that sits at the core of Good Neighbors. No matter how well one might think they know that person down the hall, anything can go on behind a closed door. Good Neighbors is a suitably unsettling “dark comedy crime thriller” that does a good job of unhinging viewers, but doesn’t quite have enough humor to balance out the considerable malevolence.

Good Neighbors revolves around the tenants of an old Montreal apartment building, in a neighborhood suffering under the grip of a serial killer. Victor (Jay Baruchel) is a sweet but naïve young man who just moves in. He quickly develops a crush on his quiet neighbor Louise (Emily Hampshire) and tries to earn the friendship and approval of paraplegic Spencer (Scott Speedman). Unfortunately Louise is more interested in the company of her housecats and Spencer seems content to take everything around him with a grain of salt. Despite the quirks of the tenants and the terrifying reality of a murderer in their midst, life moves on throughout the course of a few months. It isn’t long before we realize that none of the tenants are without their dark secrets and that the killer may be far closer than any of them expected.

Good Neighbors is billed as a dark comedy and a thriller. While the film certainly is dark and suspenseful, audiences will be left wondering where the comedy part of the “dark comedy” is. It has some impressive moments of tension, but does not boast enough humor to relieve the viewer from their discomfort. Truthfully, the story becomes so twisted by the end audiences will have a hard time remembering the last time they laughed, if ever at all.

The cast is certainly well represented here. Baruchel brings his trademark goofiness and Speedman goes from scene to scene grinning like a tiger shark about to eat an unsuspecting fish. Both the male leads do a fine job of embracing their bizarre characters. Emily Hampshire is particularly strong; a character borderline obsessed with her cats to a point that drives her to cross lines where there is no turning back. The characters are the best part of Good Neighbors and subsequently the most enjoyable parts of the film are when the three are interacting together.  When each is allowing their personalities to bounce off one another, Good Neighbors moves along smoothly. It’s certainly a case where the characters’ identities create the most engaging scenes, much more so than the subplot regarding the serial killer.  It’s when everyone starts to unravel and the tenant’s quirks are revealed to be something far more dangerous than a personality trait that the story really hits its stride.

Far more goes on during Good Neighbors than just the interaction of its characters. The story doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to dealing with its serial killer, and the violence during a few sequences is intense. The scenes of carnage are well executed and believable, but they seem more like they’re out of Se7en than Pulp Fiction. It may be too much for those expecting the film to handle that part of the storyline in a lighter fashion. Good Neighbors also maintains a sense of sexual tension between Louise and Victor and, like the violence, the “romantic” scenes are too alienating for their own good. The relationship scenes between Victor and Louise are at best awkward, rather than funny.

Audiences yearning for a murder mystery with a good natured sense of mischief would be better off avoiding Good Neighbors. The film does not utilize a talented cast to its full potential due to an attempt to appeal to both genres. Sadly, the film would have been much stronger had it gone the direction of a pure thriller, reveling in its wickedness instead of trying to make light of it with a few goofy lines peppered in. However, fans of grittier stories may find something to like as long they don’t expect to come out of the theater with a grin on their face.