Jacob Tierney’s third feature film, Good Neighbours, adds a distinctly Canadian twist on a classic Hitchcock-style thriller, envisioning a cold, claustrophobic world in which no one can be either trusted or in many ways resisted. Set in 1995 during the Quebec referendum, the film spies on three Anglophone residents of an apartment block who try to find friendship merely through proximity and language. Victor (Jay Baruchel) has recently moved back to Montreal, and wants to befriend Louise (Emily Hampshire), a waitress at a local Chinese restaurant who is obsessed with her cats, and Spencer (Scott Speedman), a paraplegic with a large fish collection and a poker face that would make Lady Gaga jealous. As a serial killer roams the neighbourhood, the three somewhat reluctantly circle each other, each trapped by the cold and the danger in their building and their own strange obsessions.
There is something unusual about the cold in Canada that creates a particular kind of isolation (further emphasized by the Anglophone in a Francophone province), and by extension a strange madness. Tierney never wastes a frame; each shot is carefully structured not only in content, but also in shape to give the viewer clues to the character’s strange inner worlds. These three are not natural friends. Baruchal and Speedman give spot-on performances in one scene where they are attempting to have dinner together, strangers who really don’t like each other; Victor is determined to be a nice and engaging guy, and Spencer lets slip his inner ass as he attempts to be friendly in return. The entire film is a strange game of cat-mouse-cat, and while Victor might seem to be the hapless foil, he is also far from normal.
This film also has one of the best murder scenes in recent film memory. It’s brutal and hilarious at the same time – and a must-see for cat lovers. These characters might be slightly unhinged, but their familiarity also makes the viewer realize that we are all, indeed a little unhinged, and we all have our own strangeness that could possibly turn homicidal if someone pushes us just a little too far in the wrong direction. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but they are not intended to be. Tierney puts the film on a slow burn to its boiling point, and even though the identity of the killer is revealed fairly early, it only adds to the quiet and cold tension. As Louise, Spencer and Victor attempt to outsmart each other, the political and linguistic setting is reflected in each individual’s desperate attempts to keep a hold of their strange obsessions with little regard to the consequences. The steady pace and care of the story make this a top-notch thriller that will hopefully see success outside of its home country.