John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe) are a married couple who have an unconventional method of making their living: they're involved with a drug-smuggling racket. Tonight they welcome one of their minions (Heather Williams) to their meeting point only to discover she is in a bad way; they and their cohorts have to maintain their tough pose of ruthlessness, but the fact remains this woman has been shot in the side, and John decides to fix her up using the medical skills he used in the armed forces. Not helping is that she has her baby daughter sitting in the back seat, but if John allowed her to get away, there would be hell for him and Rosie to pay, he does not like it one bit, but that’s what he's stuck with...
If only there was a way out, right? In common with many a sympathetic criminal in the movies, the hero here simply needed one last, big deal to escape "the life" and establish a safe, happy home far away from all this stress and illegality, meaning The Neighbour did look like a white, rural remake of Superfly for a while, except without the ice cool soundtrack. But director Marcus Dunstan (who co-wrote the script with Patrick Melton) had something else up his sleeve, and a lot of viewers who were aware of his previous work with The Collector and its follow-up The Collection thought they knew what that was: they thought they were settling down for a down and dirty horror flick.
But here's the thing, this wasn't that at all, sure there were occasional gruesome elements such as a fight scene staged in a pit of meat (for some reason) or a character whose ankle tendons are slashed to prevent them walking, but in effect this was a thriller of the sort that had been seen quite often around this time, using those horror tropes to tell a suspense yarn fleshed out with bits of character business. In fact, it was almost two films in one, starting out with John and Rosie's drug smuggling concerns then taking an abrupt right turn when they twig there are worse criminals than themselves around, worse even than the men they must fall in line and act respectful to lest they suffer some punishment or other.
Suggesting Dunstan was trying to escape the label of one trick pony, he paid as much attention to the dramatic aspect as he did his setpiece thrills, yet this had the effect of having us wonder why he took so much bother about establishing the personalities of the characters, who were by no means badly delivered by the cast, when he ultimately reverted to type and had the good guys outsmarting and trying to prevent being outsmarted by the bad guys in an elaborate kidnap set up. There were not intricate traps for the victims to be stuck in, but there were scenes where the whole affair verged on the overfamiliar torture porn of the much maligned early twenty-first century, though Dunstan was reluctant to commit to any of that, as if he felt he had matured and wanted to offer more.
Whether he had or not depended very much on your reaction to what was perfectly competent without ever quite making it to the level of inspired. There were simply too many shots of Stewart creeping around as he pieced together what was actually happening at his neighbour's place, which even in a feature-length (just) film as skimpy as this one came across like padding and less like building up the tension when it remained that we had seen stuff like this before. Helping was a believable bond between John and Rosie, who though they are no-nonsense lawbreakers, are still worth our attention and because of their capability under pressure which will come in mightily handy when the chips are down and the pressure's on, along with a nice turn from comedian Bill Engval as the title character, here proving that a comic sensibility can inform a neat twist into villainy when the script demands it. On the whole, if it was not the run around screaming, gore-flecked shocker that many anticipated, as a thriller it was serviceable enough without truly gripping. Music by Charlie Clouser.