It’s often the smallest of towns that hide the darkest of secrets, and never is that more evident than in Cutter, Mississippi. Ex-military man John (Josh Stewart) lives on his uncle’s ranch with his girlfriend, Rosie (Alex Essoe), where he earns money as a drug runner. Yet it’s not just John’s family that seems to have a shady business, as his neighbor also seems to be harboring a dark secret. A secret that he may be keeping in the basement.
Having co-wrote the screenplays for Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, and The Collector, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton once again shared writing duties for The Neighbor. As with previous films The Collector and The Collection, Dunstan employed his vision in the director’s chair. With such a lengthy horror resume, specifically in a certain sub-genre, you’d think you’d know exactly what to expect from Dunstan’s latest. Not only does the premise reference another dark basement full of potential torture, but Dunstan mainstay Josh Stewart returns to play the lead. We’re in for another entry into The Collector series, right?
Wrong. All expectations are subverted, as Dunstan’s latest proves to be vastly different from his previous works. While Dunstan’s trademark taut tension still remains, there’s an added level of intensity that stems from venturing into new territory. Where previous films all had a heightened sense of reality to them, largely due to the intricate traps set by the overly clever villains, Dunstan grounds The Neighbor in realism.
Dunstan forgoes the almost fantasy-like elements that places his films squarely into horror in favor of plausible characters doing plausible things. As a result, this film falls more under the thriller umbrella, but that this is a story that could happen anywhere, anytime makes this a far more frightening film. Josh Stewart’s quiet intensity lends well to ex-military John. John is looking for a way to get he and Rosie out of town and away from the corruption for good, but he’s still savvy enough to deal with his uncle’s drug business until then. Stewart’s performance makes you believe that John is precisely the type of person who can handle things when shit hits the proverbial fan.
Of course, part of that also has to do with who John is up against. Comedian Bill Engvall plays completely against type as his creepy neighbor, Troy. Engvall is a pleasant surprise, having created a layered villain in Troy. Equal parts charismatic and creepy, Troy is also very human. He feels exactly like your everyday neighbor, which makes this all the more horrific. Alex Essoe also impresses as Rosie, her vulnerable damsel giving way to an inner strength that makes her a perfect match for John.
In keeping with the authentic feel, Dunstan has created a gritty visual aesthetic to the film. The opening scene plays out like a Southern rock anthem video, and it perfectly sets the tone. From the characters, story, and visuals, everything feels unique except for Dunstan’s sense of tension building. The slow, intentional angles and use of sound creates extended suspense that continues to build. Even when you know the antagonists are no match for John’s skillset, there’s still palpable tension.
While the story plays out as more of a crime thriller than outright horror, fans of Marcus Dunstan’s work will still find a lot to enjoy here. The narrative may not be wholly unique or memorable, but it’s authentic. Bolstered by stellar performances, including a fantastic lead in Josh Stewart and startling villain in Bill Engvall, The Neighbor makes for one thrilling, pleasant surprise.
The Neighbor will be available on DVD, Digital HD, and VOD on September 6, 2016.
The Neighbor [Review]