A serial killer on the prowl throws a pall over everyone in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood, but creates a different kind of tension for three neighbors as his crimes hit ever closer to home. The Trotsky writer/director Jacob Tierney re-teams with that film's stars Jay Baruchel and Emily Hampshire and adds Scott Speedman to the mix for this comic thriller that made its debut at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Inspired pitch-black humor and a crackerjack ensemble that includes Anne-Marie Cadieux, Gary Farmer, and Xavier Dolan in addition to the three leads go a long way toward making up for a wildly uneven tone and suspense that never quite develops. Dark comedy fans should feel lured, but with a strictly limited theatrical release, most will either have to pony up VOD rental fees or wait for the DVD.
Victor (Baruchel) is the new guy in the building, a sweet, overly friendly teacher recently returned from China who quickly attaches himself to Louise (Hampshire), an acerbic waitress whose only true emotional bond is to her cats, and Spencer (Speedman), a sardonic young widower who was paralyzed in the same accident that killed his wife. Louise's attachment to felines is fitting-she and Spencer toy with Victor as a cat with a mouse. Victor falls for her anyway; meanwhile she suffers him to satisfy her interest in his cat Balthazar. When homicide detective Brandt (Farmer) zeroes in on their building as the lair of a reported serial killer, it adds a new layer of anxiety to an already fraught triangle.
Tierney shoots in the dead of winter. The quiet isolation of snow bound streets offers a real chill, and when the murders hit close to Louise, Good Neighbors looks like it's going to be a genuine thriller. The fact Tierney shot in the dead of winter contributes to the feeling of genre with its quiet isolation and snowbound streets adding layers of unease. But it is all too easy to figure out the identity of the killer (so easy that the trailer completely gives it away) which is deflating, even as some questions remain, particularly over whether Brandt will catch the real killer or whether someone else will be fitted for a tight frame.
A bigger issue is with a constantly changing tone, as if Tierney couldn't decide if he was making a thriller with comic elements or a comedy with some suspense. The three main characters are also problematic in that it's hard to work up much interest in any of them. Prickly Louise is as dangerous in her own way as any serial killer. Spencer can be downright nasty. Victor is a sweet guy, but his instant attachment to Louise is creepy. The counterbalance to that is all three actors deliver terrific performances without a trace of vanity. But Good Neighbors' greatest strength is that even when the plot becomes too obvious and the thriller aspects fall apart, it can always wrestle a laugh out of you.
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman, Emily Hampshire, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Gary Farmer, Xavier Dolan
Director/Screenwriter: Jacob Tierney
Producer: Kevin Tierney
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Runtime: 98 min.
Release Date: July 29, 2011