Neighborhood Watch (2005)
Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Jack Huston, Pell James, Nick Searcy, Terry Becker
Directed by Graeme Whifler
When we were first contacted about Neighborhood Watch by one of our board members who worked on the film, our initial reaction was trepidation. It usually is these days when it comes to indie cinema, but Watch, we soon learned, was a different breed all together.
A lot of what sets the film apart from the rest of the over-crowded indie horror market is its reliance on strong leads and a narrative that’s sure to make anyone currently residing in suburbia uncomfortable when they see some new neighbors moving in.
The story follows Bob and Wendi Peterson (Huston and James, respectively), a newly married couple who have just moved into their first house together after Bob takes a job at a new company. They’re in a quiet, unnamed town that looks like it could be pretty much "Anywhere, USA" (it was filmed in Victorville, CA, but you’d never know it). The weird stuff begins almost right away when an elderly couple, both deaf, crash their car in the Petersons' front yard on their first night and completely ignore Bob’s demands for an explanation. They both seem very frightened, however, and very eager to get away.
Soon we figure out why. Across the cul-de-sac resides Adrien (Searcy), a bachelor who’s been on his own since his father, the former mayor of the town, died two years before. He’s holed up in his house, the windows of which are covered in newspaper, doing God knows what while listening to a seemingly 24-hour broadcast of a religious show of the most extreme nature. The elderly couple knows that he’s evil, and we’re led to believe he’s been tormenting them for years now, but their initial warnings go unheeded as the couple is too convinced that nothing can go wrong. Bob and Wendi accept Adrien’s offer of a box of candies when he comes over to welcome them to the neighborhood, despite the tirade he goes on about the elderly couple and their filthy lies. This is after Wendi has a major allergic reaction to the poison oak bouquet that was anonymously left at her doorstop.
The candies aren’t store bought, that’s for sure, and soon the couple are spending most of their time on the toilet, shitting out everything but their intestines. Since they’re not stupid, they figure out the cause of their discomfort and not so politely tell Adrien to leave them the hell alone, which only pisses him off, causing him to accelerate his efforts as he goes about slowly poisoning them to death.
Adrien’s psychosis is never fully explained, but from the scenes of him alone in his house, listening to the near-psychotic ramblings of the aforementioned radio show, it’s obvious he’s a worst case example of the human species. Just smart enough to keep ahead of those he’s victimizing and possessing very few moral scruples, he’s able to do the sort of things normal people wouldn’t even contemplate…like fingering an open wound while listening to a tape of the Petersons having sex. He is a nasty, nasty human being. And he doesn’t like being told "no."
The most striking thing about Neighborhood Watch, at least initially, is the cinematography. The suburban neighborhood in which the story takes place is filmed in such a way as to give it a sense of almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. Shots are framed that showcase more of the big, empty sky than the houses below, which serves to evoke a sense of seclusion that you usually don’t see from suburbia. The entire point of suburban neighborhoods is the “safety in numbers” theory, but in Watch it’s clear from the look alone that there is no safe place from a neighbor like Adrien.
By now I’m sure you’ve read about how gory and disgusting the movie is, and I would be remiss not to mention it. While the aforementioned gash loving, and some earlier scenes of Adrien nibbling on the chunky bits of a stomach wound, are well done in terms of their realism, overall Watch wasn’t as gory as I was led to believe. What there is in terms of disturbing imagery, however, is done effectively enough so it stands out as more prominent than it actually is in the context of the film, especially the final scenes when Adrien is finally alone with Wendi and aims to remove the parts of her that cause her to be a "sexual deviant."
The skill of the effects can only be so effective; without some characters you actually care about, they would be wasted. Thankfully writer/director Whifler took just enough time with our leads to give them real personality so when the horror does come down on them in a big way, you’re more emotionally involved with the outcome. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like you’re going to be weeping during the final reel or anything, but enough life is given to the leads to make them believable, an important consideration that is rarely utilized by directors these days.
I did have some issues with it overall; some of the scenes of Bob at his new job didn’t really lead anywhere like I had hoped they would, and the only scene that actually features a Neighborhood Watch meeting is probably the weakest of the entire film. There were also some cringe-worthy performances by minor characters, though few and far between. Minor complaints considering the quality of the film as a whole, and they’re pitfalls that any director can make when trying to build characters and tension. Sometimes a scene or two just don’t work out as planned and you have to make the rest of the film good enough to make up for it; Whifler has no problems there.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about Neighborhood Watch soon; it’s one of those films that I see turning the right kinds of heads at film festivals to garner it a decent, if not minor theatrical, then at least straight-to-SE DVD, release. With a strong cast, an easily related to story, and top-shelf makeup effects, Neighborhood Watch is the kind of disturbingly real film seen all too rarely these days. At its heart it’s still an indie movie, bringing with it some of the trappings that implies, but easily stands tall as a different kind of horror film…one that could take place right next door.
3 ½ out of 5
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