Review: The Boy Next Door Is As Bad As The Trailer Looked
Stupidity in all its wide-screen glory.
The Boy Next Door clearly wants to have the same appeal that The Guest had last year, but the minds behind this movie clearly don’t understand “why” Adam Wingard’s film worked. Instead of being fun and campy and featuring a really magnetic performance from the two leads, we get a movie which isn’t even so bad its good – it’s just really, really bad. The performances are terrible, the script is flat as a pancake, and the direction is completely uninspired. Nothing in this movie works, and the subject is so dark and unpleasant that it suffers from the lack of camp.
The Boy Next Door, in case you’ve somehow missed the slog of trailers we’ve been subjected to for months, it is about a woman who has an affair with a “boy,” he stalks her, and then bad stuff happens to people she loves. I must say, the title is rather hilarious because the so-called “boy” looks close to thirty (the actor, Ryan Guzman, is actually twenty-seven). Plus, his character Noah is no boy either; he’s apparently a twenty-year-old old local high schooler who is, for some reason, attending regular high school instead of night school. Why? Because the plot requires it – and the filmmakers are too gutless to make this into a truly amoral affair.
Not that Jennifer Lopez’s character Claire seems to understand the age of consent, because she acts like she’s going to go to hell for having sex with Noah that one time. Now, I’m not saying that it was a good idea to start having sex with this much younger neighbor. But he’s legal, he’s not a teenager, he’s not in her class, and she’s on a break from her cheating husband. In fact, she’s just come home from a date when this creepy guy first invites her over to seduce her, in a scene which feels more like something you would describe as a man’s rape fantasy than seduction. Watching Jennifer Lopez crying “no” during a seduction we are supposed to find sexy is far from appealing, and completely alienates the female audience to which the movie is marketed. That Claire is not attracted to Noah suggests Lopez and the filmmakers were afraid to make her “unlikable,” but they manage to accomplish that in plenty of other ways.
After one night, the shit hits the fan. With Noah, who I found instantly creepy long before going off the rails, there is no mystery or evolution to his character. As soon as he says “something” happened to his parents, you know it was he who did the bad thing. And the reveal of his “deviousness” is so sloppy and obvious, you’ll just roll your eyes. This all makes you wonder, why is Claire doing nothing, and putting everyone she loves in danger? She talks frequently about fearing losing everything because she had a one night stand with this man, but why!? The “one night stand” seemed a lot more like sexual assault to me, and she didn’t break any laws. I understand being scared to go to the police because a) the police barely understand cyberstalking, and b) sexual assault cases are notoriously difficult, but Claire’s fear seems to stem from the idea that she’s done something morally wrong by sleeping with Noah (despite being separated from her husband).
Additionally, the acting in this movie is just bad – but it’s not entirely the fault of the actors. Kristin Chenoweth (also in the bomb that is Strange Magic) has become just an annoying caricature of herself, so you don’t care about her character whatsoever. Ian Nelson is nothing special as a teen actor, John Corbett is clearly slumming it (and acts that way throughout), and Lopez does her now typical 0-to-30 acting. As for Guzman: he is terrible. I understand he’s from the Step Up movies, but he doesn’t dance in this, he can’t act, and he has negative charisma. Even as just a “cute boy,” I got nothing out of watching him because the movie is so clearly made from the perspective of the male gaze. The number of times the sex scene plays into the appeal of her submission is repellant, and the way he films Claire at the window gazing at Noah is focused more on her body than on her (non?-)attraction to him (which remains a mystery). I have no doubt that director Rob Cohen intended to make an erotic thriller to appeal to women, but he completely fails with this film.
Cohen is an interesting director because, as a director for hire, he’s fine. With a good script, he’ll put good things on the screen. With trash, he directs trash. He certainly isn’t one to elevate the material, and this is much more The Skulls or Alex Cross than The Fast and the Furious. He’s working from a script by Barbara Curry, who makes her debut with this film after working as an assistant US attorney. Whoever got this script sold for her deserves a huge bonus, because it is as amateur as they come.
In case you can’t tell, I really, really hated this movie. I literally came to resent sitting through it. I’ve heard critics speak of this movie as so bad its good, but that depends on your viewing experience. In a theater, you can’t talk and make mocking comments, so how is this fun to watch? This is the kind of movie which should have been released on VOD/DVD and bypassed theaters to encourage that kind of group viewing. But making your audience sit in a quiet theater and watch this mess will only make them hulk out.
[Editor’s Note: As a special bonus, please enjoy this scene wherein Jennifer Lopez receives a first edition of The Iliad. A first edition. A. First. Edition.]
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.