Marcus Dunstan, writer of later Saw franchise entries and director of the under-rated The Collector and sequel The Collection, sticks to the claustrophobic framework that has worked for him in the past on third feature The Neighbour. Boasting strong central performances from Josh Stewart, Bill Engvall and Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes, Holidays) , it spends its first two acts building some genuinely impressive suspense, only to undermine its own effectiveness with a disappointing fumble in the final third.
John (Stewart) has aspirations beyond his day-to-day life. Scraping together a living working in a small-town crime ring headed up by his uncle, he and girlfriend Rosie (Essoe) keep telling themselves it’s only temporary, and the film begins with them plotting their escape. The Neighbour delivers in terms of character development here, with Stewart and Essoe both coming off as convincing victims of circumstances.
The film shifts gears when neighbour Troy (Engvall) enters the fray. He’s a suitably uncomfortable presence from the off, and Engvall imbues the character with an impressively simmering intimidation. In the days after Troy pays a visit to their home, Rosie sees him attack a young man in his front yard. Seeming to look directly at her as she watches from the living room window, she fears he’s seen her witness the whole sordid affair, and when John comes home later that day to find Rosie missing, Troy is his prime suspect.
The Neighbour manages to generate scores of intrigue in its first hour, and the scenes where John attempts to move undetected through Troy’s home drip with a very real dread. The film very effectively sets up its central questions, but it’s when it comes to answering them that the cracks start to appear – a protracted hunt and chase action ending feels shipped in from a different, lesser film, and it’s maddening to see its well-constructed framework crumble amidst thriller cliches and heightening ridiculousness. That being said, The Neighbour builds up enough goodwill up to then for its faltering conclusion to avoid feeling like a total collapse.