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sitting comfortably? Next Door

guess who lives here, Next Door
March 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Next Door
cast: Kristoffer Joner, Cecilie A. Mosli, Julia Schacht, Anna Bache-Wiig, and Michael Nyqvist

director: Pål Sletaune

75 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
TLA Releasing DVD Region 2 retail
[released 12 March]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Type 'next door' into your favourite online purveyor of DVDs and chances are that you'll be assaulted by a number of softcore porn releases bearing remarkably similar titles to that of this low-key Scandinavian psychological thriller. In fact, given that cover of the DVD is adorned by attractive Nordic girls who look like they slept in their clothes, you could be forgiven for thinking this is evidence of some strange new departure for knuckle-dragging lads' magazines: 'Girls Next Door: The Skag and The Grime!' In truth you would be holding in your hands something far more erotic and far more disturbing.

Next Door (aka: Naboer) has two of the strongest opening scenes I have ever seen in a psychological thriller. The initial scene sees John visited in his apartment by former girlfriend Ingrid. The pair are clearly wary of each other and it is immediately obvious that the relationship ended badly but it is not completely clear where the blame lies or whether blame is entirely necessary. We just know that Ingrid is worried about John and thinks that he should 'get a life' and try and 'feel better'. The second scene, where John is asked by his attractive next-door neighbours to help move a cupboard, also bristles with a feeling that all is not well. The girls seem to be flirting with John but they are also barricading themselves in and seem very knowledgeable about John's relationship with Ingrid.

These two scenes hold the key to the entire film as, in both a literal and figurative sense, the director Pål Sletaune keeps returning to them. In the case of the first scene, we repeatedly revisit it with Sletaune adding in new dialogue and revealing more and more information with each new look at the scene until we learn the truth about John and Ingrid's relationship. This gradual revelation is placed in the context of our exploration of John's mental state thanks to John's repeated visit to the apartment wherein we learn more about John and about the true nature of his neighbours.

On his second visit, John explores the cavernous flat and finds a maze of winding corridors and locked rooms piled full of rubbish and soiled clothes. After being locked in by one of the girls he is teased and taunted through the maze until he comes face to face with the girl who then proceeds to seduce him. Initially this flirting takes the shape of provocative clothing and talk but soon Kim is talking about being gang-fucked by plumbers and slaps John until he hits her back. Before long the couple are not only fucking but also beating each other senseless with their fists. Here the film becomes reminiscent partly of Shainberg's underrated Secretary, but mostly of Marina de Van's excellent study of self-destructive sexuality In My Skin. Is John simply a sadomasochist? And if so what are the odds that he'd find himself living next door to two girls who seem to specialise not only in kinky sex but deranged relationship dynamics.

The answer seems to come with the film's third act and John's third visit to the apartment whereupon he unexpectedly encounters Ake, Ingrid's new boyfriend. Ake is pure David Lynch... one part Frank from Blue Velvet (1986) and one part Mr Eddy from Lost Highway (1997). Unafraid in the face of strangeness and unfettered by any rules or laws, Ake is violent, threatening and forceful... everything that our budding sadist John is not. By so obviously borrowing one of Lynch's totemic characters, Sletaune is both announcing the film's departure into the realms of twisted fantasy and trumpeting the film's true nature. This is no mere psychological thriller; this is a descent into madness.

At 75 minutes long, Next Door packs a lot of ideas into surprisingly little space. The performances are universally excellent (most notably Kristoffer Joner who is simply perfect as John) and the substance of the film as twisted as it is fascinating. Next Door is also refreshing as it is one of the few films of its kind that makes everything clear in the grand reveal. No Lynchian obfuscation or Usual Suspects-style mystery... Next Door was written with one meaning in mind and the director makes it abundantly clear. Interestingly, this makes the film seem somehow deceptively simple because the director does not require you to work to understand his film. However, upon repeated viewings, it's possible to pick up clues and allusions that only make sense once you know the film's ending, implying that this is a film that is not only written and made with proper depth it is also a film that does not need to advertise its intelligence by making itself pointlessly enigmatic or mysterious. This is, without a doubt, one of the best psychological thrillers you will see this year and it completely escapes me why it did not make it onto our cinema screens.

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