'The Good Neighbor': Film Review

Caan's understated performance is the best thing about this twisty psychological thriller.

Two teenage boys use technology to torment their elderly neighbor in this thriller starring James Caan.

James Caan lends some much needed gravitas to Kasra Farahani's intermittently effective suspenser about two teenage boys tormenting an old man. Unlike the recent horror hit Don't Breathe, The Good Neighbor is more of a psychological thriller that takes a long time building up to its twisty conclusion. Despite some clever touches, the derivative film doesn't manage to live up to its clever premise.

The story concerns high school friends Sean (Keir Gilchrist) and Ethan (Logan Miller), both the products of broken homes, who concoct a plot to harass their unfriendly codger neighbor, Harold Grainey (Caan). Taking advantage of Sean's technical expertise, they elaborately rig up the old man's home while he's out doing his weekly grocery shopping. Using remote controls and monitoring everything via surveillance cameras, they create the illusion that the house is haunted by manipulating doors, creating loud noises, causing power outages and even lowering the temperature.

Much to their surprise, Grainey reacts casually to the chaotic goings-on, displaying more emotion about a neighbor's errant dog than the seemingly supernatural events occurring around him. He also disappears for long stretches at a time into his locked basement — the one area where the teens haven't placed their cameras — leading them to wonder if he's up to no good.

The film, previously titled The Waiting, features a time-shifting narrative including flash-forwards to the two boys' criminal trial that lets us know that things obviously go badly, and flashbacks depicting Grainey's relationship with his wife (Laura Innes). The constant shifting of focus — there also are numerous scenes depicting the nefarious teens' interactions with their friends — results in an unnecessarily cluttered exposition that saps dramatic tension. The frequent recourse to the increasingly tired found-footage format is yet another annoyance.

But despite its flaws, The Good Neighbor sustains interest, thanks in large part to Caan's intriguing, understated performance that particularly pays off in the film's surprise-laden final act. By his own admittance, the veteran actor has done a lot of crappy films in recent years — he blames it on high alimony payments — and while this B-movie effort receiving a limited theatrical isn't likely to significantly elevate his standing, it serves as a vivid reminder of his formidable talent.    

Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Production companies: Anonymous Content, Ball & Chain Productions, Star Thrower Entertainment
Cast: James Caan, Keir Gilchrist, Logan Miller, Edwin Hodge, Laura Innes, Mindy Sterling
Director: Kasra Farahani

Screenwriters: Mark Bianculli, Jeff Richard
Producers: Elana Barry, Allan Mandelbaum, Rosalie Swedlin, Giri Tharan, Tim White, Trevor White
Executive producers: Jeff Currier, Alfred Gundry

Director of photography: Alexander Alexandrov
Production designer: Margaret Box
Editor: Kathy Gatto
Costume designer: Skye Stewart Short
Composer: Andrew Hewitt
Casting: Andy Henry, Nancy Nayor

Not rated, 98 minutes