It’s really great to see William Fichtner in a leading role. It’s such a rare occurrence that any time it happens, I feel like we need to take a step back and appreciate it—and him. In The Neighbor, he plays a middle-aged man in an unsatisfactory marriage who becomes obsessed with his new neighbors (Jessica McNamee and Michael Rosenbaum). He’s convinced that she’s being beaten by him. We know that belief is pure, but that his other thoughts about her are less pure.
Does the abuse belief stem from wanting her all to himself? Obviously I’m not going to reveal that here. That would ruin the whole production—and its core mystery. With that said, The Neighbor isn’t exactly about that. It’s more about Fichtner’s character dissatisfaction with his current life being spiced up both by a younger women and by a potential problem that he—and only he—can solve.
As such, it’s more of a meditation on his mental state than anything else. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you go in expecting a pulse-pounding thriller. Unfortunately, you also shouldn’t expect a terribly interesting drama, either. The Neighbor doesn’t have a ton of plot, instead relying largely on Fichtner and his face to keep us engaged. And while that works for a while, it can’t maintain the entire film. It needs more than that.
It’s an understated movie—but perhaps to the point that it’s detrimental, if you know what I mean. Eventually, understatement becomes tedium, which becomes boredom, and while The Neighbor never quite gets that far, it does feel tedious and lacking about midway through, once we’ve figured out that this is all it’s going to be. And without any big reveals or developments, it winds up feeling like a short that’s been stretched to feature-length; it’s a small idea expanded without enough added to justify its new size.
Fichtner is almost enough to hold our attention, but he’s not quite enough. The other acting isn’t bad, either, but the characters are too shallow. Jessica McNamee’s character likes gardening and … that’s about all we get. Michael Rosenbaum’s character sells nice cars and maybe beats his wife when he gets drunk. Jean Louisa Kelly plays the wife of the Fichtner character and she is … a teacher. These aren’t strong enough characters to support a drama, and it’s not anywhere close to suspenseful enough to pass itself off as a thriller.
The Neighbor lacks an identity. It wants to be a blend between a drama and a Disturbia-style “what’s the neighbor up to?” thriller, and it winds up feeling very lacking in both areas. It’s moody and gives William Fichtner a chance to turn in a good leading performance, but that’s about all it has going for it. It’s too slow to work as a thriller and too shallow to be an effective drama. It doesn’t really work, but it comes close.
Conclusion: The Neighbor is too dull and too thin to be anything more than a showcase for William Fichtner.
Recommendation: The Neighbor isn’t worth your time.