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Good Neighbours

From Jacob Tierney, director of The Trotsky

It is the autumn of 1995 and Victor has just returned home to Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood after a time away working in China. He returns to a very different home than the one he left. Canada is in the midst of - potentially - tearing itself apart, the province of Quebec on the verge of a referendum that will literally decide the future of the country, on whether or not the French speaking part of the nation will secede, and the numbers are too close to call. For an English speaker in Montreal, this is a big issue. And on a smaller scale, and more immediately worrying, is the growing evidence that a serial killer is stalking the neighborhood, preying on young women whom he rapes and strangles though not necessarily in that order. But, still, Victor is happy to be back and in his nervous, neurotic way he sets out to make friends with the other anglophones in his building. There is Louise, the pretty, twenty-something waitress whose only true affection seems to go to her cats. And there is Spencer, the embittered young widower who lost the use of his legs in the car accident that claimed the life of his wife. Louise and Spencer have bonded over their fascination with the killer stalking their streets, news shared over old newspapers and nightly glasses of Scotch, but Victor - like an excited puppy just anxious to be loved - seems to take no notice of their misanthropy as he inserts himself into the mix. And so begins a most unusual thriller, one shot in an almost 1970s style, taking these three people as a sort of microcosm of the world at large. Their apartment building becomes their entire world, the film leaving those comfortable walls only rarely. And though it starts from an emotional cold, very distant and reserved position - one that mirrors the spirits of both Spencer and Louise - it is a film that very definitely rewards patience with a story filled with clever, unexpected twists as Tierney sets out to - and largely succeeds in - rewriting the rules of his chosen genre. In an age when playing Spot The Canadian! is a far too simple game with Canadian productions - local funding rules insist that the second highest paid actor must be Canadian to qualify, and so producers typically draw from a very small pool of recognized Canadian talent to fill that single role while casting everything else American - Tierney has opted for authenticity in his casting, choosing a pair of Anglophone Montrealers - Jay Baruchel and Emily Hampshire - as Victor and Louise and a Torontonian - Scott Speedman - to play Spencer. The decisions prove solid on all three. Baruchel is no longer a star in the making but a star arrived and he plays his neurotic Montreal Jew almost like classic Woody Allen but as a far more believable straight man. Hampshire is asked to play emotionally dead which makes for a dry beginning but as things progress you begin to see little flashes of depths and darknesses until the full unveiling of what exactly she is capable of. And Speedman, well, Speedman you just want to slap in the face from the first moment he appears on screen - cripple or not, he's an ass - an impulse which will be fully validated by the conclusion. The dedication to detail carries throughout the entire picture, Tierney creating a world that feels remarkably rich and full and accurate to what must have been an incredibly alienating experience, living as an anglophone in Montreal during the referendum years. Making the richness of the world even more remarkable is the realization that the film plays out in only two significant sets. There is the apartment building - roughly eighty percent of the picture - and the Chinese restaurant where Louise works. And yet, despite being so limited, the film feels like Montreal. The question for any serial killer picture - any thriller at all, really - is how graphic it will be. On that end, Baruchel proudly proclaimed at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal that he believed Good Neighbours contained the most graphic kill scene anyone is likely to see on screen this year. He has the misfortune of making that claim in a year in which A Serbian Film was on the festival circuit, immediately proving him wrong, but it's not hard to see his point. While Good Neighbours is very much a character based film - as opposed to gore or action based - the pair of kills which do appear on screen are both extremely effective and extremely shocking, both containing imagery sure to provoke a visceral response from many in the audience. The point of the film may not be to shock so much as to provoke thought but when the shocks are necessary, Tierney proves himself more than capable of delivering. Despite a slightly clumsy, slightly over-cold beginning, one that feels the need to have the characters declare their natures and interests and basic motivations a bit too obviously a bit too early on - Louise, in particular, is painted in very broad strokes with everything laid out overly explicitly - Good Neighbours builds throughout its running time to end as a unique, compelling and very rich piece of work, one that delights in teasing and shocking its audience. It does both very well indeed. Courtesy Todd Brown, Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Jacob Tierney
Running Time: 
Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman and Emily Hampshire
Screenplay by: 
Jacob Tierney, based on the novel by Chrystine Brouillet

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