Wide World of Horror: ‘Naboer (Next Door’) – the mind is a dangerous place to be


Naboer (Next Door)
Screenplay by Pål Sletaune
Directed by Pål Sletaune
Denmark/Norway/Sweden, 2005

Twists appear to be quite the common topic in this column lately. This time out the issue isn’t an actual twist, but the fracturing of a psyche that gives the idea of a twist. There’s no twist to spoil in Naboer because such a twist never takes place. From the start Naboer is the tale of a man who has lost his grip with reality. The question isn’t of the twists to come, but the journey through the mind of a damaged individual.

Naboer starts off plainly enough, and such a start is key to the films effectiveness. Josh is a sympathetic figure in the beginning of the film, and he’s again a sympathetic figure in the final shot of Naboer. In between the beginning and the end we embark on a crazy journey with Josh. His reality is our reality, his shame is our shame, his pain is our pain. It’s those first sympathetic moments we spend with Josh that make all of this possible. We feel for Josh, and we feel for what is raging inside of his head. The supposed twist is easily mistaken for a twist because we don’t want it to be true. We want Josh to vacate his nightmare, to step back out into the light and be freed from his hellish prison. The only reason the viewer thinks this way is because of the steps that are taken to make Josh an agreeable figure.

Beautifully filmed brutality creates the hellish prison of the film. The cinematography of John Andreas Anderson captures the brutality on screen in a way that is bleakly serene. There’s not much movement to the camera, or to the surroundings in the frame. The camera focuses on the stillness of Josh’s world, the stillness of his mind. This lulls the viewer into the beauty of the image, and when the savagery begins we are still thinking of the film in beautiful terms. It’s hard to come back from that point, to separate the beautiful from the ugly. Naboer has a peculiar allure in its unwillingness to separate the two for the viewer.

In accordance with the beautiful cinematography is the austere direction of Pål Sletaune. He removes the films score, for the most part. The camera is often close, right in the headspace of its characters, or character as the case may be. The limited camera movement and visual flare creates a claustrophobic vibe to the proceedings. Not just for Josh, but for the viewer who is trapped right alongside Josh. There’s no escaping his torment, we’re stuck with him for the ride. The pressing nature of the visuals combines with the claustrophobic direction to smother the viewer in the atmosphere of the film.

Sadly, Naboer feels the need to become far too conventional in its penultimate moments. The final two minutes of the film are fabulous, but the preceding eight or so minutes tells the viewer too much. They work against the atmosphere of the film, and belie the willingness of the viewer to enter Josh’s mind. The ending of Naboer is too neat, far too neat for a film that is about claustrophobic messiness.

The moments leading up the end of Naboer do bring the film down, but not all the way down. Naboer remains a well-crafted and taut psychological horror. It’s not pleasant, there are those who will be turned away by the barbarism of a mind gone wrong. If you’re willing to enter a disturbed mind, and be pulled along against your will into uncomfortable situations then Naboer is a film to get lost in.

-Bill Thompson

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