I’m reminded of my innocent childhood days when Mr. Rogers would come on my black & white television to change his shoes and put on a sweater. I have to say that I always found the guy a little creepy. He would sing to us in a soft hypnotic voice: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood, a wonderful day in the neighborhood. Could you be mine. Would you be my neighbor.” Mr. Rogers had quite a fanciful neighborhood indeed. The place was mostly populated with puppets and strange creatures of all sizes. And while today he’d look and sound like a pedophile, Mr. Rogers welcomed everyone to his neighborhood. So, I can’t help thinking how he’d feel about “The Girl”.
“The Girl” is played by America Olivo, and while her name may sound like a country and a margarine substitute, she’s actually pretty wickedly phenomenal in the new direct to video horror film Neighbor.
“The Girl” has moved into a suburban community somewhere in Anytown, USA. She’s an outgoing young girl. She just loves to drop in on her neighbors. She makes herself at home while she systematically tortures and eventually kills the residents. Once playtime is over, she’ll fix herself a snack. Try on a few clothes. And take a few worthless items that she might need, like makeup or a brush.
Don (Campbell) lives in a pretty nice house he likely inherited from his folks. In the basement he has a nice home recording studio where he and his garage band like to play and party. While he has just broken up with one girl, he’s still in love with her. That doesn’t stop him from obsessing over a waitress at the band’s favorite hangout. Basically, he and his friends are pretty pathetic. His life is relatively uneventful. That is until “The Girl” decides that his place is next on her calling rounds.
The soundproofed basement is the perfect playground for “The Girl” as she uses power tools and the like to torture Don for days. No one can hear his screams. Of course, once in a while someone comes by, like his ex-girlfriend and a girl he hired to help him put a mix together for a big party. When they do arrive “The Girl” plays with them as well, only she doesn’t linger over them like she does Don. Don appears to be a special case, and she takes her time with the young man, providing a Saw or Hostel-style torture-porn element to the film.
This is really the story of two different movies. The first half of this film plays like the climax of The Stepfather. America Olivo is actually very good in the role. Her playful smiles and entirely innocent gaze stand in splendid contrast to the brutality she is inflicting on her victims. She engages in playful chatter and thoroughly enjoys her work as she experiments on the neighborhood denizens. She’ll toss a plugged-in hairdryer in a tub filled with water and a bound victim while saying, “I always wanted to know if this would work”. The film is an entertaining romp with plenty of gore effects that rise high above the film’s low budget.
Then something goes terribly wrong. Midway through the film, it appears that Don has escaped. As he recovers, he begins to have nightmares of “The Girl” coming back for him. It’s almost as if we’re now watching Neighbor 2. Then it gets even worse as the film starts to devolve into a Groundhog Day scenario where moments are being lived over and over in some kind of time loop. So what’s really going on? I won’t spoil the film by answering the question. I will only say this is where the film lost me. It attempts to settle back into its more entertaining routine at some point, but it was too little too late. The entire pace and momentum of the movie is shot. It’s a shame, really, because everything about the first half of the movie rises well above the low budget arena and is as good as anything in the sub-genre. Even the supporting acting, while not really that good, works up until this point in the movie. It’s almost as if writer/director Masciantonio decided to suck us in and then flip us the bird on his way out the door. A sort of gotcha for enjoying the first half of the film. Too bad, really.
Gore hounds will love the effects. There is one, however, that you should be warned about. It involves a swizzle stick and a penis. Let’s just leave it at that. I really could have done without that image.
Neighbor is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The aspect ratio is a bold choice for a low-budget film, but it really works. The picture is clean and doesn’t appear to suffer from any excessive compression issues. There are times that the image has a very videotape feel to it. Mostly I encountered that in some of the location shots. Colors are good. Of course, there’s a lot of blood red, and it comes across realistically enough.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is not really anything to write home about. You can hear everything and the dialog works just fine.
There is an Audio Commentary where the Masciantonio is joined by producer Charles Smith. They share quite a bit of banter and provide quite a bit of insight into the movie. We also learn that Masciantonio had a tumor on his tongue while they were talking. I hope he has good coverage, because we also learn he suffered from kidney stones during the shoot.
Behind The Scenes With Interviews: (8:03) Most of this is raw footage taken during the shoot. There are a few interview clips which focus mostly on the f/x.
Fight Scene: (2:59) This is a look at a fight scene that leads into what I’d like to call the “lost” portion of the film.
Gag Reel: (2:18)
F/X Featurette: (6:03) Naturally, it’s a look at some of the gore gags in the film.
Music Video and Trailer
Again, I can’t say enough how much I loved Olivo’s performance here. She really does make the film, at least the first half. In fact, the movie loses a step every time she’s not front and center. It’s not that she’s a gorgeous actress or anything. It’s just the total immersion in the character that is morbidly compelling. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of her. The commentary and ending hint at a sequel. That will be great if Masciantonio can avoid any mid-flight turbulence the next time around. A swizzle stick and a penis? “Come on, dude, you couldn’t think of anything better?”