Hot on the heels of Chloe Okuno’s Watcher, here’s another cautionary tale about creepy neighbors who stare out their windows at American expats who moved to eastern Europe. But where that film played specifically into some gender-specific fears, women are just collateral damage in The Good Neighbor, a toxic bromance featuring an undercurrent of gay panic.
Luke Kleintank plays David, a journalist who’s just moved to Latvia to work at an English-language newspaper. Given the unpredictability of the current media landscape, that’s an understandable choice, but we’re also told he just left a bad relationship. Shortly after moving into a house owned by his new boss and editor Grant (Bruce Davison), he meets Robert (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an English neighbor who’s just a tiny bit over-eager to help when asked. When the two of them go out to a club, David has amazing luck with a gorgeous blonde Janine (Ieva Florence), much to Robert’s seeming disapproval. But after a distracted and drunk David hits Janine’s bike with his car, killing her, Robert launches into maximum efficiency mode to clean up his new pal’s crime. Because the movie would be over if David simply confessed, he agrees.
With The Good Neighbor, director Stephan Rick remakes his own 2011 German film Unter Nachbarn, with a screenplay upgrade assist from Stranger Things actor (and Room 104 writer-producer) Ross Partridge. But it draws on far more than his own work. The set-up and progression feels at times like a one-man I Know What You Did Last Summer, while the awkward, semi-psychotic friendship at the center evokes Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. In a hit and run situation, David basically has two choices—come clean or cover up. But while he chooses the latter, he repeatedly puts himself in situations that threaten to expose him, which Robert quite understandably gets angry about, and ultimately feels the need to more proactively counter.
Admittedly, David’s already in a tough spot when his boss assigns him to report on the hit and run case. But for an allegedly smart journalist, he makes some bad decisions that exacerbate that—like romancing the dead girl’s sister, or reporting his boss’ car stolen and then telling his boss it’s in the shop. Kleintank’s face mostly maintains a neutral masklike quality that’s effective for the character, but if we’re meant to believe he’s subconsciously self-sabotaging, the movie and the actor don’t convey it.
Meyers, on the other hand, may be too good at finding the sympathetic side of Robert. Sure, he’s apparently aging into an odd visual hybrid of Morrissey and Scott Glenn, an inherently creepy combo. But for the most part, he underplays a character who should be grossly overstepping boundaries, like, say, Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy, at least until he (correctly) perceives his own safety to be at risk. He’s uncomfortably forward exactly once—when he sucks on David’s bleeding finger to “suck the infection out,” a clumsy come-on he immediately apologizes for, and then never does again. Some gratuitous monologuing late in the film asks you to reexamine his actions in a different light, but the retcon feels unearned. Nothing justifies Robert’s eventually homicidal escalation of the situation, but David is gratuitously mean to him when they ought to be sticking together.
Sadly, the movie’s largely uninterested in exploring their relationship as a metaphor for somebody dealing with their own repressed side. You keep waiting for more to happen, or be going on, with David, or for his past to play into the story, but these things don’t happen. On the plus side, Rick and cinematographer Stefan Ciupek (Guns Akimbo) shoot the hell out of the film, delivering palpable atmosphere even when the script fails to exert as much tension as it should. Dark shadows and city-at-night browns capture the vibe of real-life creepy situations, plus...it’s Latvia. How many times have you seen Latvia on screen? It’s cliché to say “it’s like a character in the movie,” but at least it’s a novel location.
In a weird quirk of funding, The Good Neighbor is brought to you by Chicken Soup for the Soul entertainment, whose logo at the beginning would make any reasonable audience member expect something totally different. The only benefit the soul is likely to get from watching this is the comforting knowledge that you, the viewer, are not any of the people onscreen. Which doesn’t mean you can’t have fun watching them be bad, of course. But it’s a detached kind of fun. In the best suspense tales, the protagonist does everything right and still feels the noose tightening. In The Good Neighbor, David practically ties it himself.