I hear the term "psychological thriller" thrown around a lot to describe movies. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any exact meaning to this term. I see it used to describe many films which I would simply label "murder mysteries." Apparently, everyone has their own definition of a "psychological thriller". To me, the name applies to films in which the main character is involved in a very stressful (and usually frightening) situation which causes them to begin questioning the reality around them. The audience is pulled into this predicament as we aren't exactly sure what is real and what isn't. Unfortunately, I don't see as many of these films as I'd like. The Norwegian film Next Door is an example of this kind of movie.
As Next Door opens, we meet John (Kristofer Joner), a seemingly nice young man. His ex-girlfriend, Ingrid (Anna Bache-Wiig), stops by John's apartment to retrieve some things that she left there. It's clear that their relationship didn't end on great terms -- John clearly wants to patch things up, while Ingrid just wants to get her things and leave. Ingrid even goes as far as to tell John that he new boyfriend is waiting downstairs and is prepared to check on her if she takes to long. Ingrid then leaves the apartment.
When John returns home from work the next day, he is approached by his next-door neighbor Anne (Cecilie A. Mosli), who asks him for help. He enters Anne's apartment, where he meets her sister, Kim (Julia Schacht). Both women act very peculiar, and Anne asks John to push a bureau against the front door, thus blocking both women inside. John finds this to be very strange, but helps to move the piece of furniture. The next day, Anne asks John to stay with Kim, as the younger woman doesn't like to be alone. John finds this request to be strange as well, but he complies. As Anne leaves, John discovers that he is locked in the apartment with Kim, who begins to make sexual advances on him. This sets off a chain of events which occur inside the maze-like apartment. As the behavior of Anne and Kim becomes more and more violent, sexual, and confusing, John tries to distance himself from them, but finds that he can't.
It only makes common sense to state that a film's screenplay hinges on the actual story itself. However, the narrative structure (think Pulp Fiction) can also help a movie and the structure in Next Door is one of its greatest assets. Writer/director Pal Sletaune has done a fine job of mixing up time in the movie. The film starts with the meeting between John and Ingrid, and then shifts to the following day when John meets Anne and Kim. However, throughout the film, the movie will go back to the conversation between John and Kim, revealing more and more of what was said as they discuss their break-up. We soon learn that the primary focus of the film isn't necessarily the events in Anne and Kim's odd apartment, but the circumstances surrounding the break-up between John and Ingrid.
Sletaune also manipulates the audience by escalating the tone of the film. Next Door opens very slowly and we assume that John is a fairly normal person. But, we later see a scene which mixes sex and violence in a very explicit manner (many viewers will probably abandon the film at this point). This scene is (fairly) unexpected and make the audience aware that this film isn't going to pull any punches and that anything can happen at anytime. This scenes only serves as a jumping off point for the movie as the violence and weirdness only escalates from there.
Clearly, Next Door does a lot of things right. However, the movie has two major flaws. The first is the film's length -- even at 76 minutes (with credits) the movie is too long. This would have made a great hour-long episode in the Masters of Horror vein, but as it stands, there are certainly some moments which feel like filler. Of course, I may feel this way because of the movie's second flaw, the "shocking" ending is too easy to figure out. Trust me on this, if I figured it out, it's easy to figure out. Sletaune simply gives us too many clues in the middle section of the film, so when all is revealed at the end, there was only one minor facet which I wasn't suspecting.
To call Next Door unsuccessful would be unfair, as it's a very well-made film which certainly sets a sinister mood and contains some shocking scenes. However, it tips its hat far too early and takes the force out of the finale.
Next Door acts very weird on DVD courtesy of TLA Releasing. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the picture is sharp and clear. The picture shows no overt grain nor any defects from the source material. The colors look fine and the DVD does a great job of reproducing the shadowy look of the neighboring apartment. I noticed some mild video noise at times, but there was no major artifacting.
The Next Door DVD features the original Norwegian soundtrack presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This track offers clear dialogue and sound effects with no hissing or distortion. The stereo and subwoofer effects are fine and certainly add to the scene in Anne and Kim's apartment. Yet, I noted that there wasn't much in the way of surround sound action, which would have only heightened the mood. The English subs are white and easy to read.
The DVD contains a few extra features. "Behind the Scenes" is a 15-minute featurette which offers a slew of on-set footage. Here, Sletaune and his cast talk about the film and we get to see several scenes in production. There are also comments from the crew and it's interesting to note that music was played on set to help create a certain mood. Actresses Cecilie A. Mosli (Anne) and Julia Schacht (Kim) discuss their characters, how they got the parts, and the making of the film in "Meet the People Next Door" (4 minutes). Art director Jack Van Domburg and Sletaune talk about the creation of the two apartment sets in "Next Door: Rooms of the Mind" (5 minutes).
The blurb on the Next Door DVD box from Variety reads "An homage to Roman Polanski with nods to David Lynch." I couldn't have said it better myself. The film will remind many viewers of Polanski's Repulsion or The Tenant and it certainly has the otherworldly quality of a David Lynch movie. While Next Door may sound like an odd film, it's one of the more accessible European movies that I've seen in recent years and those who enjoy a good "mindf*&k" movie may find it intriguing.