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The Neighbors - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2012


Kim Hwi

Kim Sae-ron
Kim Seong-gyoon
Kim Yoon-jin
Ma Dong-seok
Cheon Ho-jin
Im Ha-ryong
Do Ji-han
Jang Young-nam
Kim Gi-cheon

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The Neighbors

aka Neighborhood

Story: Yeo-seon (Kim Sae-ron) has to walk home from school on a rainy day and is abducted and murdered by the killer Seung-hyuk (Kim Seong-gyoon). Seung-hyuk is the neighbor of the girl and the girl's mother (Kim Yoon-jin) sees Yeo-seon's ghost every day because she blames herself for not having picked her up at school. Since Yeo-seon isn't the first victim whose body is found in the neighborhood everyone is quite tense. The facility manager (Cheon Ho-jin) of the building complex the killer lives at has already some idea about the killer's identity, even the more as his colleague suddenly vanishes. However, for personal reasons he doesn't look into it. A shop owner (Im Ha-ryong) is also suspecting Seung-hyuk as is a pizza delivery guy (Do Ji-han), who has seen strange things at the killer's place. But when the killer sees schoolgirl Soo-yeon he believes to have gone crazy since she looks exactly like Yeo-seon. Moreover, he is constantly bullied by a loan shark because he uses his parking lot. Slowly, Seung-hyuk's secret is about to be uncovered, but Soo-yeon is about to be his next victim anyway.

Review: A screenplay that for all intents and purposes has to be called smart, solid directing with a few unorthodox ideas and a great cast make "The Neighbors" a well-achieved thriller which delivers a pleasantly dark atmosphere without having to give up on a good amount of black humor. First off, it needs to be noted that the movie sometimes tries too much to cover itself in a horror flick wrapping. However, it becomes clear pretty soon that all the allegedly supernatural elements in the film are mere depictions of guilt or some sort of inner demons. From the moment on this becomes apparent the horror-movie-like atmosphere often becomes irritating, even the more as the soundtrack isn't fitting at all times either. That aside there is a lot to praise about the thriller, though.

The Neighbors - Film Screenshot 11

The main idea to depict a killer along with his neighbors in an apartment complex sounds quite promising and for most part first-time director Kim Hwi manages to make use of the premise's potential. The story is based on a webtoon by Kang Pool ("Hello Schoolgirl") and stands out with its abundance of characters. Moreover, the constant shift in perspective is responsible for good suspense, even the more as the characters are connected in some way, making you realize right from the start that their paths will cross at the end. A great part of the movie's appeal stems from the fact that the indivual characters all hold in hand one or two puzzle pieces, but can do little with that alone. The viewer has already the whole puzzle lying in front of him. What easily could have become frustrating is realized pretty well.

The Neighbors - Film Screenshot 12

"The Neighbors" is full of flashbacks and accordingly possesses a narrational structure that easily could seem confusing, yet in fact isn't. The film can't serve its horror moments profitably as already stated, but for that the drama is convincing. It's not really Kim Yun-jin ("Harmony", "Seven Days"), of who we already know well enough that she enjoys crying in her roles and does so convincingly most of the time, but little Kim Sae-ron ("The Man From Nowhere", "A Brand New Life") who in a double role doesn't just come across as extremely charismatic, but also makes the drama work on a high level. By the way, the mother isn't the only one that is plagued by her own inner demons. One of the most mysterious individuals is the facility manager.

Next to his likability Cheon Ho-jin ("Desire to Kill") also bestows something inscrutable on his role as the facility manager. Then there is also the comedic element in the movie, which is primarily carried by Ma Dong-seok ("The Five"). Ma has worked his way up to being a personal favourite of mine as he is capable of giving seemingly stereotyped personalities an incredible charisma and this even though he is often playing morally questionable individuals. The same is the case here. To watch him as he cluelessly beats up the killer because he once again took away his parking space is simply delightful. Consequently, many of the chance happenings can also be accepted as they seem to be conveyed with the necessary wink involved. In the end, the movie also has some nice twists in store, too.

The Neighbors - Film Screenshot 13

Kim Seong-gyoon ("Secretly Greatly") as a serial killer with some weaknesses also deserves words of praise. The fantastic cast often helps "The Neighbors" overcome those moments where you can't be sure whether the director has come to a deadlock or not. Still, the thriller remains full of suspense all the way through thanks to gear wheels (resp. the different individuals) meshing with one another in a sophisticated device. The result is oftentimes satisfying, but the unneeded focus on horror elements and the exaggerated symbolism (e.g. the magpie) as well as some chance occurences prevent "The Neighbors" from being really great. However, this certainly shouldn't keep thriller fans from watching the movie. Thanks to the good actors and a dark atmosphere, whereas the movie also reminds you of a stage play at times, "The Neighbors" should also be of interest for a wider audience.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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