Take three freaky characters with tenuous grips on reality and stick them into an aging apartment building in a rundown neighborhood of Montreal and what do you have? Good Neighbors. You also have a film noir mystery which rivals anything the Coen brothers (Blood Simple, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) have ever done.
Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Jacob Tierney, Good Neighbors is based on the 1982 book, Chère Voisine, by Chyrstine Brouillet. Tierney first read the book when he was in high school, and decided to take it to his producer father, Kevin Tierney, with whom he had collaborated on the comedy The Trotsky.
“Jacob told me about this book a long time ago,” recalled the elder Tierney, “and I said, Jacob, I really don’t want to make a movie about a serial killer. And when we finished shooting on The Trotsky, I sent him a note saying, ‘I’ll produce any project that you want to make.’ And he told me: ‘this is the one.’” The producer overcame his initial reluctance upon reading the novel. “I actually found it way funnier and way more diabolical than just being a book about a serial killer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty sick little tale – but there’s great fun to it in a perverse way.”
Good Neighbors stars Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman, and Emily Hampshire. It also stars three cats, Mozart, Tia Maria and Balthazar who are instrumental in moving the story along.
At first, I was annoyed at not being able to figure out who the protagonist was, but I realized as the film progressed that writer-director Tierney was doing an excellent job of giving us three characters each of whom was strange enough to either be evil or something close to it. In no time, you are suspicious of all of them.
Emily Hampshire plays Louise, a waitress in a Chinese restaurant, whose fear about the possible presence of a serial murderer in the neighborhood comes to dominate her life and the lives of those around her. She has trouble relating to people, and is the creepiest cat lover in film history.
Louise communicates her fears to her neighbor, Spenser, a disabled housebound man played by Scott Speedman. Spenser’s lean, swimmer’s body seems out-of-place, trapped in a wheel chair on an upper floor of the apartment building. His personality flashes back and forth between a way too friendly smile and a barely controlled rage. But, after all, he lost his wife in an auto accident, or so he says.
A new neighbor, Victor, moves in – played to geeky perfection by Jay Baruchels. Victor is as socially inept as they come, but apparently good at heart. Of course, he does tell his brother that Louise is his fiancée, before he’s told her she is.
As the violence escalates on the streets outside, the three of them bond – as much as their flawed psyches allow – in an effort to come to grips with the threat of the serial killer. But, the strangeness doesn’t end with the lead characters. Co-workers, policemen and other neighbors all have their quirks, and you’ll find yourself being suspicious of nearly everyone at some point, at least until they too become a victim.
The twists and turns come at you rapidly in the third act and I found myself hoping for just one more when things wound down. But that wasn’t because I thought anything was missing, I just didn’t want the mayhem to end. Good Neighbors – murder, betrayal, cats, a few laughs and lots of blood – is available now on demand. It will open theatrically in New York on July 29 and in Los Angeles on August 5. I’d see it in a theater – being trapped in a dark room full of strangers will add to your enjoyment.