Title: Good Neighbors
Directed By: Jacob Tierney
Starring: Emily Hampshire, Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman, Gary Farmer, Kaniehtiio Horn, Anne-Marie Cadieux
The Trotsky boasted an incredibly solid and colorful lead character amidst a piece that was extraordinarily well paced. Take the writer-director and star of that film and reunite them for a crime thriller and we’re bound to get something lively and compelling, right? Absolutely not. Perhaps The Trotsky drained Jacob Tierney and Jay Baruchel of all their pep and passion because their next collaboration, Good Neighbors, is quite the opposite, dull and lifeless.
Louise (Emily Hampshire) lives alone with her two cats in an apartment complex. While she isn’t exactly a social butterfly, she’s fairly good friends with her neighbor, Spencer (Scott Speedman), a wheelchair-bound man who never leaves the building. One day, a new tenant moves in, Victor (Baruchel). The trio instantly forms a connection, albeit an unconventional one, and their lives begin to intertwine.
Meanwhile, a serial killer is in the midst of wreaking havoc on their town. Louise is fascinated by the murderer, obsessively following his antics in the paper. When the assailant strikes a bit too close to home, it puts Louise on edge. However, that should be the least of her worries as the real threat lurks right under her nose in her very own apartment building.
Courtesy of writer-director Jacob Tierney’s bold authorial expression, Good Neighbors is quite unique. While Tierney’s effort to highlight his own flair results in some beautifully intriguing visuals, the script itself doesn’t fair as well, which ultimately brings down the entire piece.
Tierney creates some interesting characters. Louise is a cat lady who’s seemingly only interested in her own affairs yet emits the slightest flicker of affection for both her neighbors. Victor initially comes across as the quintessential good guy, yet makes some bold moves, forcing you to question his honesty. Then there’s Spencer, who curiously never leaves his apartment and actively keeps a watchful eye on Victor. The duplicitous nature of the characters stirs up a great deal of suspicion, which certainly lends itself to the tone and style of this mysterious thriller; the trouble is, the story itself doesn’t evoke the same sensation.
Tierney has the building blocks for a great thriller between the trio of curious characters, the unsettling environment and the imminent threat of the serial killer lurking in the background, but has absolutely no sense of how to arrange them in order to build tension. At the start, Good Neighbors has an appropriately somber tone, but it’s never able to shake that doom and gloom to make room for the intrigue of the mystery.
Tierney also has a terrible habit of foreshadowing every reveal, completely diminishing, if not destroying the effect. There are absolutely no shocking or exhilarating moments in Good Neighbors as you can see everything coming minutes away. Half the fun of watching a mystery is the impulse to guess what’ll happen next and here, there’s simply no need for it.
Not only does the structure of the story itself ruin the detective work, but so do the characters. While they do manage to catch your attention at the start, throughout the film, they never really change and, if they do, it feels entirely out of character and unwarranted. Even worse, despite their decent first impressions, all three become incredibly unlikable. A little disdain for Spencer and/or Victor could have worked, but from the start, Tierney establishes Louise as the one we’re supposed to experience this story with, so, when we lose her too, we become completely detached from the film as there’s no one left to care about.
We can’t put all the blame on Tierney as the actors themselves are responsible for some of the shaping of their characters. While Good Neighbors does displace Baruchel from his comedy comfort zone, ultimately, he’s the same person we’ve seen him play time and time again, the incredibly awkward nice guy. As for Speedman’s character, it’s impossible to tell what to make of him as Speedman’s performance is extremely vague. Dialogueless moments when Spencer is supposed to be calculating are rendered meaningless, as it’s impossible to even have a sense of what’s happening inside his head. But, the worst of them all is by far Hampshire, who has absolutely no on screen presence making for a painfully lifeless lead character.
It’s hard to figure out what to make of Good Neighbors. Are we supposed to be rooting for Louise? Should we side with Victor of Spencer? Is it a violent thriller or a dark comedy? No, we don’t need clear cut answers to any of these questions, but we at least need to be nudged in the right direction, especially when the tone of the film overall is so indistinct. In the end, not knowing how to feel about what you’ve just experienced and not caring much for it leaves you with one option, to dismiss it completely.