Splatter-Punk Horror Comedy ‘Destroy All Neighbors’ Inspires Us To Be Better

Here we are again, climbing out of the corpse pile of last year’s regrets and onto fresh terrain. Beaten and battered but alive, dammit, frail arms reaching towards change. That time when we’re most willing to cocoon ourselves in aspiration and hope we emerge as someone different, hell, someone better. To those of you who are still keeping up with your New Year resolutions, way to go, you’re killing it! As for the rest of us…at least we tried. Listen, if I wasn’t supposed to eat buckets of candy every day, it wouldn’t taste so good.

Let’s face it, self-improvement is hard. One of my many struggles over the years came from wanting to blame my lack of success as a writer on anything and anyone but myself. It’s so easy to say things like I’ll write that novel once the day job calms down. I’ll finish that painting after I finish this 40-hour game. I’d work on my music, but the neighbors are too loud. The pus-dripping, difficult-to-look-at truth behind these excuses is that most of us fear failure. Admitting that to ourselves takes a whole barrel full of bloody guts. And that’s what makes Josh Forbes’ splatter-punk horror comedy, Destroy All Neighbors, a more profound and inspiring film than it may first appear to be underneath all the boogers and slime, released at the perfect moment when some of us could use an extra kick in the ass towards achieving our goals.

Penned by Mike Benner, Jared Logan, and Charles A. Pieper, Destroy All Neighbors introduces us to Will (Jonah Ray), who dreams of becoming a prog-rock musician and following in the footsteps of his idol, Swig (Jon Daly), from the band Dawn Dimension. But Will has a problem, or rather, he has quite a few of them.

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His girlfriend, Emily (Kiran Deol) is growing weary of his inability to focus on their relationship. His landlord, Eleanor (Randee Heller) is always asking him for help around the building. He’s just been fired from his job. A homeless man named Auggie (Christian Calloway) has prophesized a Dickens-esque visit of three ghosts on him. Oh, and his new neighbor, Vlad (an unrecognizable Alex Winter) may or may not be human. All worthy explanations in Will’s mind for why he has been working on his first album for three years and still isn’t close to being finished.

The one problem Will can’t acknowledge? He’s at the center of all of these issues.

Forbes hints early on at Will’s crumbling mental state through the decrepit apartment building in which he lives. Walls peeling. Lights dim. A place where dreams go to die. The shove that sends him flailing over the edge comes from ex-neighbor/screenwriter, Alec (Pete Ploszek), who gloats to Will that he finally sold his script by ridding himself of distractions (never mind the fact that Alec also has a trust fund that’s kept him afloat and daddy’s friend worked on the Jurassic Park movies). Swig says something similar in his Youtube videos that Will obsesses over, claiming “Life Lesson #28” is to cut everyone out of your life and tell them to “fuck off forever”. Terrible advice, by the way! But desperation is a fiend with a devilish tongue that could sell you a turd and call it gold. I have at least a dozen “How To” books to prove it.  

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Will’s white guy privilege has made him allergic to admitting that he’s ever at fault. Even after “accidentally” killing Vlad during a confrontation over the pesky neighbor’s loud music, his conscience can’t accept the guilt. So, he absolves himself by manifesting the chopped-up body into a Frank Henenlotter-style collection of rubbery, re-animated parts. Can’t be liable for murder when the victim is undead. Ray’s disarming performance and some clever writing work to manipulate the audience into believing Will is being tormented by some kind of ghoul. But the reality is he’s an unreliable narrator.

Everything that happens from the murder on becomes twisted by his own perception of the world. When Vlad’s hand later hits the gas pedal, running over Auggie, that’s Will subconsciously continuing his mission of getting rid of distractions. The more people in his life that he “cuts out”, only to be haunted by them, the more Will sinks into a realm of self-commendation. They tell him what he wants to hear, that he’s great, that his music’s brilliant, that anyone who doesn’t get it is wrong.

I used to tell myself that too, afraid to confront my own flaws. That part of us that cowers from recognizing who we are? It’s ugly. It’s rude and it’s vile and it doesn’t give a crap about what’s actually best for you. In other words, it’s Vlad, an extension of Will who may have never even existed in the first place. Will is the obnoxious neighbor always blasting his music and driving everyone insane. He’s just too egocentric to know it.

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Death and blood and snot and barf and ghouls and an amorphous blob of intestines playing the drums…these are what it takes for Will to see the error of his ways. He goes through the entire film too blind to see what he had in front of him from the beginning; support. Turns out, Eleanor is a prog-rock fan who’s been trying to gift him some badass instruments to help with his music, but he writes her off as someone who doesn’t fit his target audience. Auggie reveals himself to be Will’s hero, Swig, broke after years of his own misguided belief system that your art demands the sacrifice of loved ones, too dead now to offer some much-needed guidance.

And then of course there’s Emily, a woman who’s there for Will, who encourages him, yet he can’t be bothered to just pick up the damn printer paper she keeps asking for. To put it bluntly, Will sucks. I know I’d be nowhere without my wife, my family, and my friends cheering in my corner. You wouldn’t be reading this if it weren’t for Dread’s own Mary Beth McAndrews, who I’m eternally grateful to for giving me this space. The people in your life aren’t distractions. They’re the instruments and the mics and the speakers that help make the music of who you are loud enough for everyone to hear it.

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At first glance, Destroy All Neighbors would have you believe it (mostly) works out for Will. Sure, he gets locked up, but he also slays Vlad in an epic jam session, completes his album, and even wins an award! Sorry, life ain’t that easy. Once Emily stumbles onto Will murdering another neighbor, we find him in a jail cell, screaming for Vlad and the others to help him. Only then is his call answered by a lawyer (also played by Alex Winter), who all too coincidentally informs Will he’s off the hook. Is this real, or a fantasy playing out in Will’s mind? I lean towards the latter, especially once you consider the farce of a finale where he finally completes his album with Vlad and the other ghouls playing various instruments (all of whom we’ve established don’t exist).

Perhaps I’m being a pessimist here, but it seems to me that the ending to Destroy All Neighbors is one of sorrow covered up by a coat of comedic absurdity. Will’s dream becomes just that, success existing only in his mind because he was too unwilling to do the work, appreciate the support of those around him, and put the blame for his failures where they belonged…on himself

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Yeah, I know that’s a bleak take on an otherwise silly film. But that’s the sort of tough love theme that makes Destroy All Neighbors such an affecting piece of cinema in my eyes. As Will recites throughout, the right ones will get it. Here, the right ones are those who need this specific morality tale. It hurts to see yourself on screen in a character like Will, but the transformative process is never painless. You have to tear the flesh of who you were off, bleed a little blood, and maybe shed a few dozen tears, before you can become who you want to be.

Destroy All Neighbors may not make many “Best Of” lists at the end of the year or win an Academy Award, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. This film hocks a loogie in your face, slaps some sense across your cheeks, and offers up an invaluable teaching or two. Don’t overlook the people in your life that have your back. Don’t make excuses. Acknowledge when you’re not doing what needs to be done.

It’s only March. There’s still plenty of time this year to write that book, paint that painting, film that film, accomplish those goals. And if you have your own subconscious troll like Vlad insisting that you are now and will always be a “loser”, take the lesson learned by Will the hard way and do what he should’ve done in the first place: ignore that motherfucker.



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