Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some are Different, Some are the Same: Pal Sletaune's Naboer (Next Door)

Recently dumped by his girlfriend for another man, John’s new solitary existence is jolted by the appearance of two mysterious and beautiful neighbors in his otherwise isolated apartment building. Introducing themselves as sisters, Anne and Kim, the two quickly suck John into a world where the line between reality and fantasy seems constantly blurred. John, who considers himself a good and moral man, is soon confronted by something very sinister, very dark and very internal that changes his life forever.

An exceedingly well-made Norwegian film from 2005 that is heavily indebted to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant, Naboer(Next Door) is one of the most thrilling and surprising discoveries I have made as of late. The fourth feature from the talented writer and director Pal Sletaune, who directs the film with a refreshing minimal style that recalls many of the great European Auteur's of the sixties, Next Door is a terrific little thriller that manages to be equal parts tense, erotic, surreal and fascinating in its extremely slim 75 minute running time.

Working from his own script, Sletaune immediately establishes a wonderfully oppressive and strange aura in Next Door’s opening moments and he never lets the tension ease throughout the film. Taking place almost entirely in two large apartment lofts (actually a wonderful studio built set-piece that is documented in the DVD’s extras), Next Door could have become a basic exercise in modern day quick-cut unease but Sletaune’s excellent script and direction makes it a much more perverse and thought-provoking offering than most modern thrillers. Next Door is a sensual and violent work showcasing a really intelligent director locked into an intense groove with his cinematographer, editor, composer and actors.

The behind the scenes crew on Next Door all help Sletaune realize his particularly twisted vision incredibly well with special note going to John Andreas Anderson who handles both the film’s shadowy photography as well as it terrific editing (he co-cut the film with Darek Hodor). It is finally the editing of Next Door that perhaps elevates it the most as Sletaune wisely uses a refreshing number of much longer takes than most modern films dare to, a fact that makes each edit all the more judicious and important. Next Door’s complex psychological storyline would have collapsed in on itself were not for the skillful cutting of Anderson and Hodor.

The on-screen talent is just as impressive as off-screen and the three leads all deliver splendid performances. Kristoffer Joner, who deservedly won Best Actor for his work as John at the Norwegian Amanda Awards, delivers a tremendous performance as a seemingly good man with more darkness inside him than he can come to terms with. A Relative novice at the time, Cecilie Mosli is solid as the seemingly twisted Anne but the real standout is Julia Schacht, a real knockout who delivers a seething and erotically charged performance as the masochistic Kim. Schacht is so good in the film, her first role in front of the cameras, that it is rather shocking to see that she has only appeared in two films since.

While Next Door maintains a consistent tone throughout, of particular importance is a stunning and quite disturbing sequence about halfway through between Joner and Schacht that recalls the most disquieting moments of Lynch's Blue Velvet in the way it teeters between eroticism and violence. It's an explosive and and unnerving scene featuring absolutely bravura go for broke performances from both of Sletaune's extremely talented actors.

Equally important to the film is the music of British born Simon Boswell, an important composer who has scored films as far reaching as Dario Argento’s Phenomena to Alejandro Jodorowski’s Santa Sangre to Richard Stanley’s Hardware. Boswell’s memorable and sneaky score to Next Door heightens the tension throughout the film but it never falls into the trap of just servicing to anticipate a scare. The DVD extras show just how important music is to Sletaune as, like Argento on Suspiria, he plays different pieces on set to help get his crew actors into the appropriate mood for each scene.

Next Door succeeds where most modern thrillers fail, in that it manages to both build an authentic tension as well as delivering the pay-off that is so necessary for a film like this, regardless of what any genre hating film ‘aficionado’ wants to admit. It’s a perverse and strangely haunting film delivered with gusto by a clearly talented group of artists.

Sletaune’s film was a huge hit for Norwegian cinema when it was released with a rare 18+ rating in the mid part of this past decade and it proved just as popular with critics. Not as well known here in the States, Next Door is thankfully easy to see as it is available in a very solid DVD edition from TLA. Featuring a sharp widescreen transfer, that services the film’s 2.35 ratio just fine, and several short but interesting featurettes, Next Door is still in print and reasonably priced for anyone what hasn’t seen it.



Thanks for the review, I was thinking about checking this out but was undecided. Your review has tipped the balance definitively in its favor!

Staci Layne Wilson said...

Thanks, Jeremy! I am definitely going to check this one out. The stills are gorgeous... love that composition, with so much negative space.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Twisted,
I hope you enjoy it. I came into mostly cold and it really grabbed me.

Hey Staci,
How's it going. Thanks for commenting. The composition in this film is really impressive...lots of that killer 'negative space'. This really does feel a lot closer in spirit to something Polanski would have done in the sixties as opposed to most modern thrillers. Anyway, I dug it and I appreciate the comment!

TERRENCE said...

I've been hearing quite a bit about this film lately. Hope to check it out in the near future. I agree on the excellent framing in the composition.

Kudos on your always excellent cinephile blogs!