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Fantasia 2022: "Next Door" Review

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

The official theatrical poster for Yeom Ji-ho's, "Next Door."

The official theatrical poster for Yeom Ji-ho's, "Next Door."

A Clever and Ridiculously Brilliant Thriller

Next Door is a South Korean black comedy thriller written and directed by Yeom Ji-ho. Chan-woo (Oh Dong-min) needs quiet to study for the police entry exam. He's been trying to get onto the police force for the past five years. Chan-woo lives in a tiny apartment with the bare essentials, his neighbors are too loud, and his boiler is going out so he has no hot water. He only eats fried rice and has $1.28 in his bank account. Passing the exam would be the first step towards a better life for him.

Chan-woo calls a friend to try to borrow some cash and is roped in to hanging out with some other friends he hasn’t seen in years. The friends convince him to drink alcohol. After having one drink, Chan-woo blacks out and then wakes up the next morning. He has scratches on his face, his arm is bruised, and there’s a body on the floor in a pool of blood. He’s trapped in his neighbor’s room with a dead body, his application for the exam is due by 6pm, and he can’t remember the events of the night before.

The humor of the film mostly lies within the performance of Oh Dong-min He raps all the time and is absolutely horrendous at it, but his commitment to his craft is admirable. He screams in a high pitched tone when he’s put in harm’s way, he vomits at the sight of blood, and his panicked demeanor whenever he’s about to get caught is quite comical. Chan-woo obviously has some knowledge of crime scene investigation and shows that he is at least partially competent when it comes to trying to piece together the events of a crime. However, he’s also a huge idiot and Oh Dong-min knows how to work that aspect of Chan-woo’s personality in to his performance to comedic perfection.

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For a first time director, Yeom Ji-ho takes his storytelling in fairly unexpected directions. The events that unfold after Chan-woo wakes up continuously get worse and worse like a chaotic snowball. The sequence involving the rope and Chan-woo swinging from window to window is genius and Next Door knows how to make the audience think Chan-woo is about to get caught only to take a different approach or he gets caught and he’s suddenly about to be an accomplice to disposing of a body.

Chan-woo (Oh Dong-min) discovers a body in, "Next Door."

Chan-woo (Oh Dong-min) discovers a body in, "Next Door."

I Have to Be Home by 6pm

The film essentially only has two primary locations; Chan-woo’s room and his next door neighbor’s (with a few glimpses of the restaurant he gets drunk at and the stairwell to the apartment complex). Next Door has such a simple concept and Yeom Ji-ho is able to inject so much tension and creativity into the story. There are instances when you watch a movie, especially one in the horror genre, where you are yelling at the screen demanding the person in the film do this or do that to try and live longer or because it is the smarter thing to do. It feels like Next Door listens to what you’d potentially yell at the screen, includes it in the film, and things go south anyway.

Every person that Chan-woo encounters, even his landlord, feels like a suspect, that they aren’t telling the truth, or have ulterior motives. The film feels like an amateur detective story that has somehow stumbled on to his first case. Choi Hee-jin portrays a female in Next Door that is incredibly mysterious. Her identity is better left unsaid, but her performance is extremely calculated. She is manipulating Chan-woo from the moment she meets him. Choi Hee-jin knows she can be overpowered by a man, but intellectuality is stronger and more impressive than any muscle.

Oh Dong-min as Chan-woo in, "Next Door."

Oh Dong-min as Chan-woo in, "Next Door."

Laugh out loud funny with unseen twists and turns, Next Door is a suspenseful and amusing treat dripping with two impeccable performances from Oh Dong-min and Choi Hee-jin. Yeom Ji-ho knows how to make a gripping blockbuster with limited yet masterful resources.

© 2022 Chris Sawin

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