The question of who our neighbors really are and what we would do if we discovered their deepest criminal secrets has always provided fascinating material for film noir thrillers. Writer-director Jacob Tierney provides a unique twist on the genre with his new movie ‘Good Neighbors,’ which is based on Chrystine Brouillet’s first novel, 1982’s Chere voisine. After unveiling three diverse characters in the film, their immoral actions make not only each other, but the viewers, question what they should do in such a terrifying situation.
Set against the referendum-era Montreal of 1995, ‘Good Neighbors,’ which is now playing at New York’s Quad Cinemas, follows Spencer (played by Scott Speedman), a recent widower who was left wheelchair-bound after the death of his wife several months earlier. He bonds with Louise (portrayed by Emily Hampshire), who lives on the floor above him in their apartment complex and works as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant. She becomes fascinated with the recent string of murders of young women after one of her co-workers died at the hands of the serial killer.
Victor (played by Jay Baruchel), who just returned to Montreal after teaching in China, moves into Spencer and Louise’s apartment building. He eventually forgoes his initial interest in the poll to make Quebec independent, to instead build a friendship with Spencer and a romantic relationship with Louise. But as the film progresses, the three begin to suspect someone in their apartment building is the one committing the murders.
‘Good Neighbors,’ which is also available in New York via Time Warner Cable On Demand, is unique from other thrillers in the fact that Tierney forgoed the mystery of who the killer is; he instead focused on what the main characters are going to do once they figure out the killer’s identity. The filmmaker was able to maintain the mystery of how the characters are going to continue tricking and manipulating each other by placing the story-line in 1995. Technology and DNA research weren’t as fully developed in the mid-1990s as they are now, so the killer is able to trick his neighbors and the police for a considerable amount of time.
The three main actors all have intriguing, believable relationships with one another, as they realistically relate to their respective characters. Tierney specifically wrote the parts for the three actors, and as a result, they develop a unique bond as their characters question why the killer’s targeting seemingly innocent women.
Speedman credibly portrayed Spencer as an aloof loner who had no real interest interacting with the rest of the world; he comes off condescending towards people who don’t agree with his point-of-view. Hampshire convincingly makes Louise equally emotionally distantly, and as though she only cares about her three cats, Mozart, Tia Maria and Balthazar. It seems like her primary reason for talking to Spencer is to debate why the killer is murdering women, and she only interacts with Victor to use him to get whatever she wants.
Baruchel, who previously worked with Tierney in last year’s comedy ‘The Trotsky,’ was a believable choice to play the ill-fated pawn in Spencer and Louise’s manipulative mind games. While he doesn’t realize it, the actor perfectly summed up his character by when he said Victor is more intelligent than he seems. For the majority of ‘Good Neighbors,’ he makes no effort to hide his naïve and moral personality. However, even as he becomes more familiar with her calculating personality, Victor continues to strive to protect Louise.
Besides the actors’ portrayals of their respective characters, Tierney’s subliminal use of the story’s themes through its visuals and sets also helps make ‘Good Neighbors’ exhilarating. The apartment complex Tierney used for the characters’ building, which was located just off of Sherbrooke Street in Notre Dame de Grace, provided distinctive living quarters for Spencer, Louise and Victor. Not only was the architecture completely different in all of the apartments to fit the characters’ personalities, their belongings also placed hints about who may have been involved in the murders in the viewers’ subconscious.
With ‘Good Neighbors,’ Tiernery succeeded in creating a noir thriller film that makes not only the characters and viewers question why the killer is murdering women, but also who’s going to be the next victim and how the killings are going to be stopped. Speedman, Hampshire and Baruchel all created diverse characters with clashing personalities, based on a unique premise created by the writer-director. Tiernery’s impeccable choice of filmmaking location also added to the story’s development, as the apartments helped allude to the characters’ assorted temperaments.