Welp, it's the first of the year, so you know what that means! It's the annual January Film Dumping Ground Season! Yes, it's that magical time of year where the studios burn off all the celluloid dogs they didn't dare release during the all-important and lucrative summer and Xmas blockbusters seasons. Brace yourselves for an onslaught of watered-down PG-13 horror films, romcoms, dance-off movies and fart comedies. It's a great time to be a film fan.
The Boy Next Door was written by Barbara Curry and directed by Rob Cohen. Cohen is primarily an action director, having helmed Dragonheart, Daylight, The Fast And The Furious, xXx, Stealth and The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor. Well, at least his quality's consistent.
This appears to be Curry's first foray into theatrical films. Her only other screen credit is The Perfect Guy, which hasn't yet been released, but sounds like the exact same film as this one. Go with what you know, I guess.
The Boy Next Door is perfect example of the "psychotic stalker" genre, like Swimfan, Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Unfaithful and Obsessed. The script includes every element from these types of films like it's going through a checklist. Attractive, Vulnerable Woman estranged from her husband? Check! Charming, Attractive Younger Man enters her life? Check! Ill-advised sexual encounter with Charming, Attractive Younger Man? Check! Finding out that Charming, Attractive Younger Man is actually a sociopathic stalker? BIG check! Charming, Attractive Younger Man starts making the Attractive, Vulnerable Woman's life a living hell, threatening her family and forcing her to violently retaliate? Check, check and check!
The movie wallows and writhes in this cesspool of cliches so gleefully that part of me wonders if it's supposed to be some kind of subtle parody of the genre. The filmmakers can't possibly expect us to take this story seriously, can they?
The film was shot for just $4 million dollars, which is incredibly cheap these days, and probably less than what other films spend on their craft service. Obviously very little of that amount was spent on the script.
SPOILERS AHEAD, NOT THAT THERE'S MUCH TO SPOIL!
Claire Peterson (played by Jennifer Lopez) is a high school literature teacher who's recently separated from her husband Garrett (played by John Corbett). Garrett cheated on Claire during a recent business trip, prompting her to throw him out. Claire's world is further turned upside down when an impossibly perfect nineteen year old named Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door with his ailing uncle.
Noah befriends Claire's teenaged son Kevin, and becomes sort of a big brother to him. Noah invites Claire over on the pretense of helping him cook a chicken, which I guess is what the kids are calling it these days. He comes on to her, and in her weakened and vulnerable state she succumbs to his aggressive advances. Hijinx ensue, as they have a night of steamy, passionate sex.
The next morning Claire tells Noah that what they did was a mistake, and can never happen again. He instantly flies into a rage and begins stalking her, which is pretty easy, since he's The Boy Next Door (Houston, we have a title!). He hacks into her email account and gets enrolled into her literature class, sends incriminating photos of their sexcapades to her school printer, and begins expertly turning Kevin against Garrett.
Things really get out of hand when Noah tampers with the brakes in Garrett's car, which nearly kills him and Kevin. Claire sneaks into Noah's house and discovers he did the same thing to his parents' car, killing them. He also kills Claire's best friend Vicky when she gets too nosy for comfort.
Noah then kidnaps Garrett and Kevin, holding them hostage in the barn that Vicky inexplicably owned. He tells Claire he'll let them go if she runs away with him, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable plan that any woman would go along with. When she refuses, he sets the barn on fire. Claire grabs Kevin's asthma syringe and plunges it into Noah's eye, blinding him. Garrett and Kevin escape, as Claire puts the drop on Noah— literally— by crushing him beneath a tractor engine. The movie ends very abruptly at this point, as if it's just remembered an urgent appointment, leaving the audience confused and unsatisfied.
• The film starts out with a series of very strange, choppy flashbacks and voiceovers explaining Garrett's infidelity and Claire's marital situation. These scenes appear to have been edited with a chainsaw.
Surely they weren't filmed like this. I've got to believe they were part of a much longer opening sequence that was drastically cut down. The entire movie is a brisk 91 minutes— I'm thinking there were a lot of scenes littering the cutting room floor.
• The whole film suffers from this clumsy editing. Characters and story lines are introduced and then abruptly disappear without warning. Take Noah's uncle for instance. He owns the house next door that his nephew Noah moves into. He disappears a few minutes later as we're told he's in the hospital receiving a bone marrow transplant. He inexplicably shows up again near the end, before disappearing again, for good this time.
Similarly, Kevin's crush Allie receives a buildup that makes us think she's going to be relevant to the plot, before completely vanishing from the film (and no, despite what everyone thinks, she is not the blonde that Noah has sex with later in the movie).
• When Noah is bonding with Kevin, he tells him very emphatically that he's "almost twenty." Obviously this was done in order to make Claire more sympathetic, so that when she has sex with Noah it's between two adults and she's not guilty of statutory rape.
• Noah is quite the Renaissance man for just nineteen. He's well versed in the classics, can quote Homer like a college professor, is a skilled auto mechanic and handyman, not to mention a gifted marksman and boxer. He's even a devoted caregiver as he tends to his ailing uncle. He's also an expert psychologist, as he makes some very accurate and astute observations about Garrett and Vicky.
He'd be the perfect catch, if only it wasn't for that whole pesky sociopath thing.
• Noah visits Claire and gives a copy of The Iliad as a gift. Claire examines it and is gasps as she says it's a "first edition."
OK, obviously they meant it was a first edition from a particular publisher here, but it still struck me as funny. How the hell do you have a first edition of a three thousand year old story? Is it written on a scroll? In Greek?
• This movie has a very peculiar obsession with chocolate chip cookies. The script mentions them every chance it gets, and then some. At the beginning of the film Vicky reminds Claire that Garrett cheated on her with a woman who "smelled like chocolate chip cookies."
After their tryst, Noah invites himself to dinner at Claire's house. Kevin offers him a plate of freshly baked biscuits and Noah takes one, gleefully replying, "I love your mom's cookies!" Wakka wakka!
Later Claire is brooding alone on the couch, and sees a plate of chocolate chip cookies lying on the table. Incredibly, she picks one up and sniffs at it, presumably to see just what it was that attracted Garrett to his secretary and drove him to infidelity.
I would not be surprised to find out that screenwriter Barbara Curry used to work at Pillsbury.
• Kevin is continually taunted by a ginger bully named Jason Zimmer. He calls Kevin "The Wiz," due to a pants-wetting incident a few years earlier. Jason says, "Hey Peterson, I saw you on Turner Classic Movies last night in The Wiz!"
OK, so that was actually kind of amusing, but I find it very hard to believe that a teenager in 2015 would have ever heard of either The Wiz OR the Turner Classic Movies channel.
• When Noah sees Jason taunting Kevin, he beats him so severely that he fractures his skull. Since Noah is legally an adult, he should have spent the rest of the film behind bars, awaiting his assault trial. Of course at no time are the police or criminal charges ever mentioned. The only thing that happens is Vicky, the very unlikely assistant principal, expels him from school.
• Speaking of law enforcement, at no time does Claire ever consider going to the police, which would have solved all her problems and ended the movie an hour early (if only). In fact the police don't even seem to exist in this world until the very end of the movie, after the crisis is over. That's pretty much standard in these kinds of films.
• Claire sneaks into Noah's house and finds his secret shrine to her (which is under the basement!), filled with photos of her sleeping and bathing, making us wonder how the hell he managed to get such shots. She also finds his laptop and sees a folder labeled "Videos" that contains the sex scene he apparently recorded with her. She deletes this file and somehow believes that's the end of it.
Has she never heard of backups? Storing files in the cloud? Retrieving deleted files?
She also finds several files of very specific car model schematics, implying that Noah studied them in order to know how to sabotage the brake lines of his father's car and Garrett's. Incredibly, these potentially incriminating files are right out in the open on his desktop. Jesus, people hide porn on their computers better than this nimrod hides his murder files.
• Noah tries to blackmail Claire into running off with him by holding Garrett and Kevin captive.
I get that Noah is a sociopath and doesn't think things through, but what exactly is he expecting to happen here? Does he really think Claire will fall hopelessly in love and they'll spend their lives together after he kills her ex-husband and son?
When Claire refuses this romantic offer, Noah begins splashing gas all around the barn. It sure looks like he pours it on both Garrett and Kevin, but when he lights it, only the barn catches fire. Luckily for them neither Garrett or Kevin burst into flame.
• At the end of the film Noah suddenly turns into an indestructible slasher movie villain. Claire wallops him in the back of the head with a shovel, but he manages to shake off the blow, so she then stabs him in the eye with a huge hypodermic needle. This still doesn't stop him, so she sticks her fingers into his empty eye socket and starts poking around inside his skull. When that still doesn't work, she finally drops an engine block on his chest.
After Claire rescued Garrett and Kevin, I half expected the camera to show Noah was no longer crushed under the block, having escaped to appear in the sequel.
The Boy Next Door is an over-the-top stalker film that revels in its genre cliches. Despite its awfulness, it's still mildly entertaining in a bad-movie-night sort of way. I give it a C.