John is having a hard time with his girlfriend Ingrid leaving him. When his neighbor Anne shows up in his hallway, asking for a helping hand in her apartment, John also meets her sister Kim. The two girls will offer John the kind of distraction he wasn’t exactly anticipating…
During the last half of the 1990s, Norwegian cinema began to receive a greater deal of attention outside the Nordic region, particularly after the commercial success of Søndagsengler (The Other Side of Sunday, 1996), Insomnia (1997, later remade in America by Christopher Nolan) and Budbringeren (Junk Mail, 1997). Moving into the 21st century, a new generation of Norwegian filmmakers were working on new and fresh projects, and this renaissance also reached the horror genre. Pål Øie‘s Villmark (Dark Woods, 2003) was a big hit and opened the door to a new breed of Norwegian horror, which seemed to be dormant since the ’50s classic De dødes tjern (Lake of the Dead, 1958). Director Pål Sletaune (of Budbringeren fame) joins the ranks of Norwegian filmmakers that are shaping the new face of their national horror filmography with his film Naboer, a claustrophobic nightmare of psychological horror and disturbing eroticism that definitely leaves a mark on the viewer.
Naboer (literally “Neighbor” but known in English as Next Door) is the story of John (Kristoffer Joner), a young man who has just experienced a bitter break-up with his former girlfriend Ingrid (Anna Bache-Wiig). Depressed and moody, John can’t seem to move on, specially now that Ingrid has started a new relationship. One day after work, John meets a beautiful and attractive woman named Anne (Cecilie Mosli) in the hallway of the apartment building where he lives. It turns out that Anne is his next door neighbor, and asks him to help her move heavy furniture in her apartment. John agrees and follows her, discovering that Anne lives with her equally attractive sister Kim (Julia Schacht). Getting acquainted with his next door neighbors, John discovers that the sisters seem to know a lot about his life and his relationship with Ingrid. Feeling uncomfortable and unsettled, John decides to leave, however, this encounter will only be the beginning of a twisted game between the sisters and him, a game involving psychological and physical torture.
With a screenplay by director Pål Sletaune himself, Naboer explores the degradation of John’s state of mind after breaking up with his girlfriend Ingrid, using as a catalyst his meeting with Kim and Anne, and the bizarre situation they get him into. As John gets deeper into the world of the sisters, we get glimpses of his relationship with Ingrid, and the situations unleashed by their break-up. Sletaune seems to pay homage to Roman Polanski‘s “Apartment trilogy”, as the story takes place almost entirely in Kim and Anne’s apartment, which acts like a labyrinth from which John must escape. An in this aspect, Sletaune plays with the idea of apartments as places of apparent isolation. John had never noticed the sisters’ apartment, not even when they are on the same floor, and yet, the sisters had heard him through the wall. However, the most interesting thing in Naboer is the carefully constructed defragmentation that takes place in John’s mind. It does feel derivative at times (nods to David Lynch come with a price), but the overall effect is nicely done.
As a director, Sletaune keeps a restrained approach, subtle and classy, that makes a pretty interesting contrast with the events depicted. The much touted scenes of sexual violence are indeed unsettling in their eroticism. Sletaune succeeds in crafting a psycho-sexual horror film that is both repulsive and exciting, disturbing and captivating; a duality portraying pretty much the essence of the horror genre at its most basic. With a terrific work of cinematography by John Andreas Andersen, Sletaune creates an ominous, claustrophobic atmosphere which reflects John’s distorted state of mind. References to Polanski appear in the classy visual style of Andersen‘s camera-work, which is dynamic and flows through the apartment gracefully. Director Sletaune keeps the story flowing with a nice, slow yet consistent rhythm, building up the tension as John’s descent into madness goes deeper into the dark side, and the mysteries surrounding the sisters’ apartment and their behavior are uncovered.
Acting in Naboer is of great quality, and the four main actors deliver terrific performances in their roles. Leading the cast is Kristoffer Joner as John, showcasing great talent to portray the damaged state of mind in which he is during his adventure in the sisters’ apartment. Taking advantage of a character rich in complexities, Joner creates a vivid portrait of this apparent everyman, so natural that comes to the point of being disturbing as the plot unfolds. Cecilie Mosli and Julia Schacht play Anne and Kim respectively, the strange yet beautiful girls next door. Mosli plays Anne (the apparent leader) with a delicious malice, that enhances the Machiavellian nature of her character. Skillful in her domain of body language, Mosli goes from a sympathetic character to a hateful one with great ease, and always keeping the mystery intact. As Kim, Julia Schacht plays a strong, sexually aggressive woman that’s not without her mental imbalances. Finally, Anna Bache-Wiig plays John’s ex-girlfriend Ingird with a subtle yet very natural approach.
The work of the four actors is quite noteworthy, particularly that of Kristoffer Joner, who truly delivers a wonderful job as John. Director Pål Sletaune has crafted in Naboer a pretty effective exercise in suspense and erotic horror, and despite its short runtime (75 minutes), it’s an ultimately satisfying experience. If there is anything wrong with Naboer, that would probably be the fact that it can’t escape its derivative nature, and those familiar with the works of filmmakers Roman Polanski and David Lynch may find it a tad too predictable for its own good. Nevertheless, while it’s true that a couple of plot twists are honestly not that difficult to guess, Sletaune‘s Naboer is a film in which the joy of its viewing lays more on the “how it’s done” than on the “what’s happening”, the visual narrative over the story itself. And in this aspect, Sletaune succeeds with his carefully constructed mix of subtle horror with erotic sadomasochism. Probably it has been done many times before, but Sletaune at least does it well.
Despite not being particularly graphic, Naboer can be at times uncomfortable to watch due to its bizarrely arousing erotic violence, however, by creating this uneasy sensation director Sletaune succeeds in delivering a haunting film where horror is not so much in the graphic impact of its story, but in the unnerving sensation that it leaves on the viewer. Certainly Naboer may not revolutionize the horror genre, however, this particularly haunting mix of psychological horror and erotic thriller is amongst the best examples of the recent breed of horror films that come from Norway. Truly a film worth a watch.
Trailer in IMDb.
Running time: 73 mins
Audio: Norwegian, Dolby 5.1 & Dolby Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: Dutch & French
Aspect ratio: 16/9 (2.35)
Extra’s:‘Behind The Scenes’ (15 mins)
‘Meet the Neighbours’ (3 mins)
‘Mental Spaces’ (5 mins)
‘Funny Commercial’ a ‘Funny Dance’ (1 min)
‘Next Door’ Trailer
Trailers Mr. Horror Presents (White Skin, The Roost & Zombie Honeymoon)
Booklet (4 pages) with liner notes, pictures & terror trivia
‘Behind The Scenes’ is a very informative making-of with on-set footage and interviews with director Pål Sletaune. Featurette ‘Meet The Neighbours’ has Cecilie Mosli and Julia Schacht talking about their characters and preparing themselves for their roles. ‘Mental Spaces’ gives us an indepth look on the film’s set-design & color schemes. The clips ‘Funny Commercial’ & ‘Funny Dance’ both feature leading actor Kristoffer Joner and are outtakes clearly meant to be two little on-set jokes. All worthwhile bonus material. (GV)