(2011)3.5Mark DemingHow well do you know your neighbors? And how well do your neighbors want you to know them? Pundits enjoy lamenting the notion that we live in a culture where the people next door to us are often strangers, but it's possible that those folks are doing us a favor by keeping their distance. Jacob Tierney's Good Neighbors is a smart and stylish thriller shot through with dark humor that deals with three friends living in a Montreal apartment building, all of whom have aspects of their lives they're not sharing with others -- and not without reason. It's a movie that sometimes tries a bit too hard to be clever, but it also has enough smarts and left turns to keep the story lively and suspenseful up to the end.
Good Neighbors is set in 1995, just as voters in Quebec are going to the polls to weigh in on a referendum that will decide if the French Canadian province will remain part of the country or secede and go its own way. As these events add an air of tension to the relationships between French- and English-speaking citizens in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district, Victor (Jay Baruchel) returns to Canada after teaching in China for several years. Victor, good-natured but constantly nervous and socially clumsy, introduces himself to two of his new neighbors in his apartment building, Spencer (Scott Speedman) and Louise (Emily Hampshire). Spencer has been confined to a wheelchair since he was in an auto accident that claimed the life of his wife, and he rarely goes out; he's handsome and charming but emotionally cool and not shy about letting people know when he's unhappy or disinterested in what they have to say. One of Spencer's few friends is Louise, an attractive waitress who seems uncomfortable around many people and clearly prefers the company of her cats. It's obvious that Victor wants to be friends with Spencer and is infatuated with Louise, but while both are polite on the surface, neither seems interested in getting to know him much better. A serial killer has been on the loose in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Louise has been following his crimes in the news, comparing notes on the case with Spencer. When the killer murders one of Louise's co-workers, she asks Victor to walk her home from work in the evenings, which he imagines means she's starting to warm to him. Meanwhile, Louise's cats are found dead one morning, and everyone in the building suspects it's the work of a deranged woman living upstairs who tosses ugly, alcohol-fueled threats at her neighbors on a regular basis. Louise is devastated and turns to Victor for comfort -- or, more accurately, Victor's cat, with Victor tossed some token affection on the side. As it happens, these characters all turn out to have some shocking secrets that are revealed before the finale, some of which have very serious consequences.
Director Jacob Tierney (who also wrote the screenplay, adapted from Chrystine Brouillet's novel) clearly enjoys prowling the dark corners of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, which look threatening even in broad daylight, and he has fun with the visual side of this story -- almost too much so, since the many 360-degree pans and tricky match cuts get to be tiring in the third act. Good Neighbors moves at a deliberate pace, taking a while to pick up steam, but once the story sinks its hooks in, Tierney keeps it compelling up to the conclusion, even as we follow three characters who are interesting without being especially likable. It takes a while to realize just how loose Louise's screws truly are, and Emily Hampshire does a splendid job of making her dementia realistic and just a bit engaging even as she evolves from eccentric to truly dangerous. Scott Speedman's Spencer is a character who is cool enough that you want to get to know him even as he makes little secret of the fact he's a grade-A jerk, and he manages to play both sides of the card well, even if his more obnoxious side carries the day. Jay Baruchel's Victor is a bit more problematic; he makes the character so emotionally needy and socially inept that it's hard to understand why Louise and Spencer tolerate him to the degree that they do, though it certainly suits the narrative and Baruchel wrings plenty of uncomfortable comedy from his performance. Gary Farmer also gives a memorable supporting turn as a police detective who knows something is up even as he's still putting the pieces together. Tierney draws solid performances from his cast (it certainly doesn't hurt that he has worked with Baruchel and Hampshire on previous features), and if the movie is sometimes inconsistent, it's as smart as it needs to be even if isn't quite as smart as it thinks it is, and it's refreshing to see a Canadian film that doesn't pretend to be American, but uses the nation's culture and controversies as part of the story. Good Neighbors is a thriller that plays by its own rules, and most of the time it wins -- if you like your suspense stories hip and a bit edgy, this should be right up your dark alley.
A series of unsolved murders raises suspicions among the residents of a Montreal apartment building in this thriller starring Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman, and Emily Hampshire. It's the winter of 1995. Montreal has been shaken by a series of brutal murders when Victor (Baruchel) moves into a tenement building already occupied by Spencer (Speedmam) and Louise (Hampshire). Shortly after Victor moves in, the killing spree intensifies. As suspicions fall on the newest tenant, both Victor and his new neighbors begin to reassess their opinions of what it means to have privacy while living in such close proximity to others.