The Good Neighbor (2016)
★ / ★★★★
“The Good Neighbor” manages to end strong but the journey there is a challenge to sit through, filled with seemingly interminable and boring images of characters staring at computer monitors where not much interesting happens. It is unfortunate because the writers, Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard, clearly wish to comment on our culture today with respect to how many are so willing commit moral and ethical transgressions for the sake of direct or indirect approval via social media. Although I understand exactly what the picture is going for, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Inspired by a social experiment done in England, Ethan (Logan Miller) and Sean (Keir Gilchrist) decide to break into the house of an old man (James Caan) while he goes on his weekly shopping to install cameras and other gadgetries. The cameras are meant to record Harold’s reactions while the various electronics can be controlled to trigger a reaction. You see, the high school seniors who reckon themselves brilliant for coming up with the idea wish to convince the man across the street that his house is haunted. They call their new hobby an experiment but others might simply call it a crime. They hope that their project will gain them popularity once they release their findings to the world.
Although a dramatic thriller at its core, it is a mistake that the tone and atmosphere liken that of horror films. Too much effort is put into the camera looking at monitors rather than the material looking deeply into the hearts and minds of its subjects: the minors who fail to think things through before eventually crossing the line. Scenes where Ethan and Sean are away from their computers simply interacting with one another or spending time with their peers are a lot more informative than yet another night of sitting front of a screen waiting to see what would happen, if anything at all.
The two young men are not written as sharply or as interesting as they should have been in order to hold the entire film in place. Although Ethan is supposed to be the one who came up with the idea of committing the prank and Sean is supposed to have been the provider of brains and money, the screenplay proves to be consistently simplistic in that both are outcasts on some level with something to prove. The approach is a bore, Screenwriting 101, not at all worthy of our attention because the writers failed to create human characters that ring true.
Caan plays the tormented old man but even his caliber of talent fails to elevate such limp material. When closeups are employed, there is life and experience behind those aged eyes. However, due to the material’s dearth of complexity, specific details and emotions are missing. Eventually, hackneyed flashbacks are thrown on our laps and we are supposed to feel something because of there are sad images but without the necessary background information and specific details. It attempts to trick us to care beyond its superficiality.
Directed by Kasra Farahani, “The Good Neighbor” is a timely picture, but this trait is exactly the reason why I believe we deserve much better. It would be interesting to see a different interpretation of this picture after having gone a few more rewrites in addition to having another director who embraces the dark corners of humanity, especially from the mindset of teenagers today, born and raised in the culture of social media, who believe they have the right to mistreat others because it seems fun or because it is “just a prank.”