Movies from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lodger" to Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" have succeeded in finding the creepier side of apartment living. While the new Canadian import "Good Neighbors" aims for that level of tension, it winds up being the new tenant who seems nice enough on moving day but very quickly gets on your nerves.
There's enough creepy tension and nefarious deeds afoot to make for a really suspenseful short film, but even at just 96 minutes, "Neighbors" outstays its welcome.
On the eve of the Quebecois secession vote in 1995, Victor (Jay Baruchel) moves into a Montreal apartment building where longtime residents Spencer (Scott Speedman) and Louise (Emily Hampshire) are close chums who exchange daily bits of gossip about the serial killer who's been stalking young women in the neighborhood.
It's hard to tell at first whether or not their relationship is platonic, particularly since the wheelchair-bound Spencer tends to keep to himself. Soon enough, we come to realize that none of these three are exactly who we thought at the beginning of the movie, and as their initially-friendly inter-relationships escalate, the danger and the suspense do. too.
And on paper, that's great - the script by director Jacob Tierney (based on Christine Brouillet's novel "Chère voisine") quickly dispenses of an easily predicted twist so as to catch you off-guard with subsequent ones you didn't see coming. He also capably directs his trio of leads (I've never seen Hampshire before, but she has a charmingly Ally Sheedy-ish vibe) even as the characters keep upping the ante with new and previously unrevealed secret sides.
That's actually where "Good Neighbors" falls apart: The more we get to know these tenants, the more awful and misanthropic they become, which makes it hard to give a damn which one of them comes out unscathed. Not that all characters have to be "appealing," but when the prospect of a building collapse that leaves them all buried in rubble (spoiler: this doesn't happen) leaves you unmoved, that's a script flaw.
"The Roommate," lame as it was, at least threw a cat in a dryer. All the creepy business here is so restrained and, well, politely Canadian, that not even lower-48 audience draws like Speedman and Baruchel can keep the proceedings as lively as they should be.
Granted, I don't know my current Canadian history well enough to understand why the Quebec referendum plays so significantly into the plot, or if it's intended as some kind of metaphor, but that's something that Tierney added to the story, since the original novel was set in 1982.
"Good Neighbors" starts out with promise and flash, but eventually gets bogged down into routine-thriller territory. It's a potluck you'll want to sneak out of early to go back to the comfort of your own room.