Way darker than helmer Pal Sletaune’s two previous, blackly comic thrillers (“Junk Mail,” “You Really Got Me”), “Next Door” reps compellingly creepy viewing for its first hour before the last stretch descends into predictable horror mechanics. A homage to Roman Polanski, particularly “The Tenant” and “Repulsion,” with nods to David Lynch, claustrophobic story is set almost entirely in two apartments as a loner recently chucked by his g.f., is drawn into fetid mind games with his two comely but crazy female neighbors. Pic occupied upper floors of B.O. charts domestically post-April 2005 release, and could have niche appeal abroad.
Pic opens with protag John (Kristoffer Joner) receiving an unexpected visit from his ex-g.f. Ingrid (Anna Bache-Wiig), come to collect her remaining possessions from the digs they once shared, while her new beau Ake (Swedish thesp Michael Nyqvist from “Together”) waits outside. John and Ingrid bicker before she departs, but crucial info about the scene is not revealed until later in flashback.
After some time passes, John’s next-door neighbor, Anne (Cecilie Mosli, from “Elling”), who he’s never met, asks him to help her move a cupboard in her spooky cluttered apartment. At her apartment, he also meets another young woman, Kim (newcomer Julia Schacht, sexy in a feral way), who Anne later describes as her sister, although Kim casts doubt on that. The two women reveal they know all about Ingrid’s departure, claiming they hear everything through the wall even though he’s never heard a peep out of them.
Anne subsequently explains that Kim was ravished by the man who lived in John’s apartment before him and talks him into minding her little sister while she goes to fetch a prescription at the pharmacy. In the girls’ apartment, Kim lures John by sly degrees into having violent sex during which they punch each other until they’re both covered in blood, the pic’s centerpiece scene that’s simultaneously disturbing, erotic and absurdly comic.
And then things get really weird. Horror aficionados will spot the writing on the gloomy apartment walls and guess what’s coming, which is pic’s structural fault. Still, Sletaune manages to conjure a potent atmosphere of dread using classic chiller trickery — figures flitting just out of shot and focus at the edges of the frame, rumbling noises on the soundtrack, disorienting editing that gradually reveals more key bits of backstory as the border between fantasy and reality starts to erode.
As demonstrated in his previous movies, Sletaune isn’t afraid of using deeply unlikable characters and his John here makes an interesting transition from put-upon victim to a nut cut from the same cloth as his neighbors. Some viewers may be disturbed by pic’s queasy treatment of women, although it just about evades accusations of misogyny.
Thesping all-round is excellent within in parameters for genre fare, with Joner anchoring pic with a convincing sweaty performance and the femmes striking just the right enigmatic, feline notes.
Kudos are due in particular to Jack van Domburg’s production design, especially for the women’s apartment, which tip the wink particularly toward Lynchian territory, while Simon Boswell’s score has an eerie splendor that compliments the action without intruding too much.