Won't You Be Mine?
Ah, Lionsgate: the home video distributor of - literally - hundreds and hundreds of genre titles over the last decade, oftentimes of the low budget variety. DVD Talk, over the years, has sent me dozens of their titles to write up for the site. I've reviewed so many of them that I now sit down and have to think of novel ways to begin discussing their latest title. A few of the releases have been very worthwhile and memorable, the Belgian Artifacts comes immediately to mind; however, many others, like this year's Neowolf, well, let's just say that they're in another category altogether.
July 2010 sees Lionsgate releasing yet another entry in the trendy "torture porn" genre, notoriously popularized by the likes of film franchises like Saw and Hostel. It's advertised as an unrated director's cut of Robert Angelo Masciantonio's Neighbor and, true to form, this is a movie that 90% of filmgoing audiences will automatically avoid due to its subject matter - and rightly so given mainstream tastes. I tried to approach this review from the perspective of the other 10%, the so-called horror hounds out there who enjoy a bit of grisly cinematic mayhem from time to time.
The films follows "The Girl" (America Olivio), an attractive if unhinged young woman on a home invasion / murder spree. There's no mystery here, as the opening sequence sets up the fact that this woman is crazy and sadistic. She's operating in a small town and catches up with a rock band courtesy of a posting on craigslist. After a lengthy introduction to the characters in this band, especially Don Carpenter (Christian Campbell, the brother of Neve Campbell from the Scream films), "The Girl" begins her cruel and explicit torture of them (necessary for the genre) over the course of the remaining hour of the film. Why? She's crazy - don't expect a lot of character motivation or development from Neighbor, as there's not much to be found.
The first half hour of this movie showed a lot of potential. Masciantonio has a nice eye for composition. The aforementioned opening sequence of "The Girl" is an effective steady cam that follows her from room to room through a nice suburban house and its unfortunate occupants who have become her victims. America Olivio does a good enough job in this and other early scenes of shifting between a faux nice girl routine and that of a killer. The script contrives some very dark humor, reminiscent of old Tales From the Crypt comics, that was at least interesting. (In fact, one early "sight gag" involving a faucet might have been lifted from an infamous Tales From the Crypt story involving vampires.) I also appreciated some well-composed character shots, especially of Don helping to price used books in a bookstore and "The Girl" talking to a mother at a snowy playground, that have an appealing symmetry.
However, once the requisite torture of Don and his friends begins, Neighbor drives right off a cliff. Olivio's shtick wears thin quickly. The torture is downright nasty, but it rarely looks truly convincing. And, honestly, the whole thing becomes a chore to watch. Neighbor, perhaps, would have been better suited as a film short, as there's just not enough gas here to fuel a feature-length film. The second half introduces some time jumps and dream sequences to try to add some variety to the goings-on, but they only end up furthering the growing separation of the audience from the narrative thrust of the story. In other words, one just stops caring after a while.
The "torture porn" genre is a difficult thing to pull off successfully without it becoming an exercise in pure misogyny. A few films have managed to do so; I'm probably in the minority here, but I thought Hostel: Part II actually got it right with its considered attempt at providing a back story for both the victims and the assailants. Neighbor starts off with visual panache and a darkly comic approach, but it all breaks down about a third of the way in. Perhaps its greatest Achilles Heel is that, unlike Hostel: Part II, we learn nothing here about "The Girl" and what makes her tick.
Neighbor is nonetheless worth a rental, but only for the horror fans out there.
Lionsgate's DVD release of Neighbor presents the film in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The video quality is quite strong with nice detail and colors.
The sole audio track is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. At times, the score and songs are mixed in too loudly, but otherwise, the track is appropriately strong and dynamic. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
For a relatively low budget production, Neighbor receives a surprisingly plentiful collection of extras for its DVD release. For starters, trailers for The Expendables, From Paris With Love, Caught in the Crossfire, and Open House as well as ads for epix and break.com precede the main menu.
More significant are two commentary tracks. The first has the participation of director Robert Angelo Masciantonio and producer Charles St. John Smith III. A random sampling suggests it is a straightforward and informative track. A curious - and unusual - second track is provided by a Dr. Karen Oughton, who identifies herself as a lecturer in media communications at London. A random sampling suggests academic-toned observations about the film, as if it were some kind of classic. Very strange.
In addition, there are a number of brief, fairly standard featurette extras: Behind the Scenes with Interviews (8:02), Fight Scene Featurette (2:58), Gag Reel (2:18), Special Effects Featurette (6:03), a music video from The Low Budgets (2:41), and a trailer for Neighbor (1:38). All are in anamorphic widescreen.
So, all told, if you're fascinated by this film, there are literally hours of extras you can soak in.
Neighbor opens with some promise: a visual flair and an intriguing antagonist played by America Olivio. However, about 30 minutes in, it devolves into an ugly and unconvincing exercise in "torture porn" that abandons the film's earlier strengths and fails to engage the viewer. Given the disc's plentiful extras, it's worth a rental - but only for the horror hounds out there interested in this genre.