Film Review: Good Neighbors

For sheer, absurd gruesomeness, one stomach-turning scene in this obnoxious, uninvolving Canadian thriller could win 2011’s prize.

If you thought those apartment houses in Apartment Zero or Roman Polanski’s The Tenant were creepy, they have nothing on the Montreal residence which forms the setting for Good Neighbors. And what residents! There’s Louise (Emily Hampshire), a waitress in a Chinese restaurant who is the personification of lonely cat lady, obsessed by her felines as well as news accounts of a rampant serial killer who sexually preys on pretty young girls. Her neighbor, Spencer (Scott Speedman), confined to a wheelchair, not only shares her grisly interest, but may very well be the murderer himself. The new kid on the block is schoolteacher Victor (Jay Baruchel), a nerdy sort who desperately wants friendship from these antisocial oddballs.

Writer-director Jacob Tierney starts off on the right foot, creating an atmosphere of quirky intimacy, but before too long loses control over the material as it veers from taut tension into absurdity and then gruesome excess. We are pretty much clued in early on as to Spencer’s guilt, so the main suspense stems from how long it will take for him to be discovered.

In the meantime, an especially bothersome neighbor (Anne-Marie Cadieux), who drinks all day and shrieks obscenely at everyone, kills Louise’s cats, triggering a revengeful response in Louise, who, in an effort to make it appear one of the serial killer’s jobs, not only murders her, but rapes her corpse with a dildo. Oh, those wacky Canadians! But even before that preposterous occurrence, the film’s willful eccentricity and generally distastefulness had completely lost me. To supposedly add some sort of relevance to the proceedings, the film is set in 1995, on the election eve of a referendum regarding Quebec’s secession from Canada.

The actors do what they can with what they’re given and adequately display angry alienation (Hampshire), clueless nerdiness (Baruchel, channeling Dwight Frye), sleek menace (Speedman) and abrasive excess (Cadieux, leaving you to wonder why she wasn’t simply evicted years ago). The lesser roles, like that of the landlady (Micheline Lanctôt), Spencer’s therapist and some goofy cops, are, however, particularly ineptly rendered, adding a note of amateurishness to this misfire. Actually, the cats give the best performances by far.