Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Sleazy, repugnant, misogynistic, and somehow unintentionally hilarious, The Boy Next Door is an unintelligible disaster on all levels. Featuring a self-serious narrative with sexual euphemisms dominating much of its vernacular, the film occupies an ugly territory in the thriller genre. It’s not confident enough to be a slasher nor is it exaggerated enough to be a satire of the genre itself; rather, it wallows in sexual violence and aggression toward women while employing a passive, depressing lead character in Jennifer Lopez that seems just as shocked by everything as we are. Hailed as a $4 million success story of micro-budget filmmaking, Lopez and company have crafted a narrative that never employs logic or continuity checks because, well, money can only buy so much. There’s no room for caring about the audience or their journey, just in reveling in clichéd notions of obsession, emotional regret, and homoerotic montages of shirtless men punching the air. Wait a second, maybe they’re onto something new with that last one…
I digress. The film opens with Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) running through the forest for a morning jog. Naturally, her clothes expose cleavage and show her trying to escape the feelings that torment her past. Those flashbacks include her recent divorce from Garrett (John Corbett), a sleaze ball that cheats on her with his secretary on business trips to San Francisco. Claire teaches at a San Fernando Valley high school that her son, Kevin (Ian Nelson), also attends. Her life is tumultuous with Garrett continuing to be in her life and attempting to reconcile the relationship with family trips to a favorite place of the past, but Claire won’t have it. Help indirectly comes in the form of her new neighbor, Noah (Ryan Guzman), a 19-year old boy who lives with his senile great uncle that’s looking for a bone marrow transplant. Noah provides a friendship to Kevin and also helps Claire with her garage and around the house. He also enjoys her cookies, as he repeatedly says. Get it? Cookies.
No surprises come when Noah turns out to be hiding a secret past. That includes being a skilled computer hacker with the ability to forge signatures, quoting Homer’s The Iliad off the top of his head, and essentially having the ability to seduce any woman on command. Here’s where the film falls from campy romp to grotesquely unsettling romance. Noah effectively coerces Claire into sex in a scene that involves her having a little bit of wine in her system, refusing to have sex with Noah, and having him strip her of her clothes and forcing her to change her mind. It’s not seduction, but force. He takes advantage of her as she seems to recoil at first, with pain switching to ecstasy and having the audience forget that the scene started with gross insinuations. The film does linger on her satisfaction, a rarity particularly in as misogynistic of a film as this one. Claire’s mistake of sleeping with Noah leads to an obsession that runs rampant, involving him stalking her (but he lives next door, so that joke pops up because it’s simply too easy to avoid), writing her name on the wall in the bathroom during Spring Fling, and banging her son’s date to said dance. All in what feels like a ten-minute sequence.
Things turn ugly quickly, and the film hits every cliché in the book in an attempt to follow a rote, overdone formula. Repetition escalates matters and the familiarity of the narrative makes every note predictable. I whispered to a friend a few times what I thought would happen and, sure enough, they happened, as did his predictions. Stupidity is a given for characters in a film like this, and Noah is the biggest example, with him keeping criminal actions on his computer from years before and trusting Claire far too much with sensitive information when he already has the upper hand. Claire’s passive approach to handling men in the film is perhaps the most frustrating: what could’ve stood as an empowering narrative for women fighting against men who become obsessed instead devolves into submissive, “damsel-in-distress” material for Lopez. She’s better than that. Rob Cohen’s film has no semblance of creativity or nuance, even if it does involve some good jokes with a senile old man and an eye-popping closer that brings the film to an abrupt stop. The Boy Next Door is just bad on all levels of filmmaking, as it is both an incompetent and hilarious film for all of the wrong reasons.
Grade: ★ (out of 5)