In The Good Neighbor, aspiring documentarians Ethan and Sean (The Walking Dead’s Logan Miller and It Follows’ Keir Gilchrist) carry out an experiment on their reclusive elderly neighbour Harold Grainey (The Godfather and Misery‘s James Caan). After breaking into his home and rigging it with cameras and electrical equipment, they observe him in his natural habitat while also electronically triggering strange noises, banging doors and other supernatural phenomena. It’s a mean-spirited central conceit, and immediately puts The Good Neighbor in the inherently tricky position of framing its main characters as antagonists.
For the most part, this is an engaging, neatly put together thriller that treats its audience like adults – there are no immediate explanations or awkward expositional info dumps. Grainey’s history is slowly revealed through flashbacks that feel organic, carried by Caan’s nuanced performance. We’re informed from the beginning that Ethan and Sean believe that there’s something in Grainey’s past that makes him a deserving victim, and the truth behind this isn’t explained until the third act. The film’s mid section is a little exhausting as a result – there’s a finite amount of time we can really engage with two unlikeable people doing unlikeable things, with unspecified motives.
That being said, the constant cutting from documentary-style footage of the experiment to a cinematically-shot court case in the present day keeps things ticking over, and by the time The Good Neighbor reaches its darkly affecting conclusion, it’s overcome any pacing issues and – mostly – hit the spot. Elements of this have been dealt with more convincingly recently in films like Hangman and Slumlord, but this is still a solid effort that navigates some difficult cinematic territory with a decent amount of poise.