The Good Neighbor is high on concept, but low on execution. Told in three different styles of film, two kids, Ethan and Sean (played by Logan Miller and Keir Gilchrist) decide to conduct a social experiment on their weird and lonely neighbor, Mr. Grainey (played by James Caan). As the experiment ramps up, the kids start to think that the quiet old man has a dark secret he is hiding.
The first style of film is your traditional found footage horror film. In this, the movie tells the story of two kids committing a social experiment on their neighbor to make him think his house is haunted. This is actually a pretty cool concept, and if the director stuck with that, it could have built suspense, and got some genuine jumps and frights. Instead the movie doesn’t stay with that style of film – it actually jumps around with different styles of film so much that it stops the viewer from ever getting engrossed in the film.
Going back to that social experiment, the second style is a social thriller about how you can influence a person without contact, and seeing how they react to their environment. This was my favorite aspect and would have liked to see that brought full circle. Sadly, the film still needed to pull some scares and switched back to its horror tendencies. The final style was a court room drama. This transition was the most jarring and I could not figure out what time period it was in. They jump to this style to give you clues as to the outcome, but then go back to the story. This disrupts the flow and sadly took me out of the movie. There is even a fourth style of film I didn’t mention; and those are flashbacks of Caan’s character. These scenes give the viewer an idea of the madness he is going through but the kids don’t know any of this. This just perplexed me and it felt like it could have served a better purpose at the end of the film for the big reveal.
A curious element was the music. Well, not so much music as it is just earthy tones, but I assume it’s the film’s score. I could not figure out its use. It comes in for court room scenes and then disappears, but then it comes in for the first person footage from surveillance cameras. At least in a movie like Diary of the Dead, they explain the use music in a found footage film, but here, it serves no purpose. It doesn’t make any of the situations more intense, it’s just distracting in its placement.
With all that, a big positive I can give is the acting. It was great seeing James Caan on-screen again, if not bittersweet as he is an old man now. His steely gaze is actually quite unnerving as you really have no idea if and when he will snap. The two young leads also were believable as high school kids and outside of one scene where the dialogue seemed force and had no passion, they were solid.
On a personal note, I would take ‘The’ out of the title. I honestly think it has more impact as just Good Neighbor, but I don’t market movies, I just tell you if they are good or not.++
Overall, The Good Neighbor it’s a valiant attempt at the blending of genres and film styles, but is not a success. Strong performances aren’t enough to help the pacing issues along with the story structure problems. I felt like there is a good story in there, maybe even two stories, but combined, it doesn’t work. Overall, this movie is not a complete waste of time, but it’s not time well spent either.
The Good Neighbor hits theaters this Friday, Sept 16th.