So lurid and campy that it registers as inspired, Rob Cohen’s low-budget thriller The Boy Next Door takes a Lifetime Original premise—a woman has a fling with her 19-year-old neighbor, who turns out to be a maniac—and pumps it full of Oedipal references and yellow lighting. Plenty of credit is due to Barbara Curry’s deranged script, set in a suburban fantasyland of doofus bullies, junior proms, and middle-class sex fears; it probably isn’t meant to be a Verhoeven satire, but it sure moves like one.
Opening with what may be the worst marriage-on-the-rocks montage in film history, The Boy Next Door introduces Claire (Jennifer Lopez, face occasionally blurred by digital wrinkle removal), a jogging, hard-working teacher and mother who enjoys hanging out in her best friend’s stock-photo-ready kitchen and who can’t decide whether to divorce her philandering husband. Enter new neighbor Noah (Ryan Guzman), the bug-eyed sexual bogeyman, who speaks in classical quotations (“Homer, Byron, Zeppelin, Dylan. The poets.”) and tortured double-entendres; he also has the near-supernatural ability to slip into the frame out of nowhere. It doesn’t take long—what they used to call the beginning of reel two— for Claire to sleep with him, though by that point, he’s already fixed her garage door, given her a copy of The Iliad (“a first edition”), and developed a relationship with her teenage son that contains more than a trace of homoerotic tension.
She chalks their one-night stand up to too many glasses of wine. He goes berserk, skipping right past the threatening phone call/slashed tires phase into blackmail, brake sabotage, kidnapping, and murder. As he conveniently never graduated from high school, he enrolls in her AP Classics course, burns graffiti into the wall of the boys’ bathroom, and scrawls threatening quotes from Oedipus Rex on her blackboard. Cohen (xXx, Alex Cross) goes for a garish, low-rent exploitation look: abrupt dolly-ins, purple-lit streets, and a couple of car-crash sequences that bring to mind his back-to-basics B-movie direction on the first The Fast And The Furious movie.
This is all protect-the-nuclear-family stuff; Claire is being punished for considering divorce from her husband, from whom she’s been separated for nine months. (He had an affair with a secretary “at the home office,” an indiscretion calculated for maximum Formica suburbanness.) But the thing about The Boy Next Door is that it’s so exaggerated and crammed with references to Greek tragedy—which start awkward and pretentious, but become sublime around the point when someone gets an eye ripped out with an EpiPen—that it can’t help but come across as parodic. Intentionally or not, it plays like a fun, loud parody of reactionary thrillers. And, regardless, big-screen releases this unabashedly trashy come once in a blue moon.