Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Neighbors (2013)

Director: Tommy Schaeffer
Stars: Michael Alvarez, Kyle Gerkin and Shellie Ulrich
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
I was really interested to see what Tommy Schaeffer was going to conjure up as a director, given that he's an Energizer bunny of an actor, one who's just as bouncy when he's off camera doing his regular work as a sound guy. This is perhaps the last thing I'd have expected from him, as it's the opposite of frenetic; it's a slow, composed trip into the dark side of writers Kyle Gerkin and Amy Maliga. Running ten minutes, far too long to qualify for the competition it was shot for, its slow pace is a key part of its charm. 'It's always important to create the right atmosphere,' says a mysterious man in black lighting candles in a dungeon, with the neighbour couple of the title tied up back to back in front of him. That applies not just to what he's doing but to the film he's in as well. So it's slow and drawn out, to match Michael Alvarez's monotone as this odd protagonist. The score, composed by Schaeffer himself, adds to the feel too, sounding like fingers on wine glasses as these neighbours drink their drugged wine.

Hardly surprisingly, the story is an odd one. It sets itself up to be torture porn, gets notably freaky as Carl, the neighbor that Kevin and Justine have come to meet, explains just how much he knows about them, and then refuses to play ball with our expectations. Carl is a scary bundle of inappropriateness, underplayed superbly by Alvarez, the real focus throughout, even though he's the only character not represented in the title. Kyle Gerkin and Shellie Ulrich have their moments as the neighbours at Carl's mercy but the film loses some of its slow but sure momentum once their captor leaves the screen. To be fair, it's partly because they can't move but, to be brutally honest, they're not as interesting as he is. He's an enigma, perhaps to be taken literally or as a manifestation of their consciences. Maybe the way his dungeon is neatly revealed to be just a bathroom reminds us that first glance isn't everything here. Some oversaturated lighting counters the excellent sound, but it's the thought that wins here.

1 comment:

Kyle Gerkin said...

Thanks for reviewing our film, Hal. You note that, despite being the focus of the film, Carl is "the only character not represented in the title". With regards to that, there is a (possibly) interesting bit of background. We had originally titled the film "The Neighbor", singular, with reference to Carl. But then, when submitting the film to IMDB, we discovered there were already two 2013 films titled "The Neighbor", but none called "The Neighbors", plural. So we thought about it, and decided the plural made even more sense, given that so much of the film is from Carl's perspective and concerned with what he sees. Therefore, through his eyes, Kevin and Justine are "the neighbors". That said, after we screened it, I saw a commercial for a TV show called "The Neighbors", so I guess we can't win on that front. Or maybe we should have picked a less common word for our title. :-)