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Director Jacob Tierney sets his quirky and slow-building thriller Good Neighbors in Quebec in 1995, as a second referendum is about to decide whether the province's French-speaking separatists can push for independence from Canada. The vote might have gone differently if the French-speaking population knew what this little enclave of English-speakers was up to.
In the dead of winter, chummy neighbors Louise (Emily Hampshire) and wheelchair-bound Spencer (Scott Speedman) meet their building's newest tenant, Victor (Jay Baruchel). Louise is sweet but plain and splits her time between working in a Chinese restaurant and doting over her cats. The attractive and charming Spencer seems only vaguely resentful of being left crippled by a car crash. And Victor is an earnest but slightly patronizing do-gooder.
Everyone is on edge because there is a serial killer on the loose and an abrasively drunk and lonely French-speaking neighbor who spends her days yelling at her husband, neighbors and walls. The trio warm to each other's company, and Spencer and Victor develop a rivalry for Louise's companionship. But something more toxic is brewing, and whether Tierney is too heavy-handed or wants to let the audience in on a secret early, it's far too easy to guess Spencer doesn't spend all of his time rolling around his apartment caring for his collection of exotic fish.
With its thin walls, the apartment building allows for few secrets, and some of the developments seem inevitable, for example when Louise's cats turn up dead. But as the trio's passions spill out, the action gets ever more sinister and unpredictable and no one is as nice or sweet as they seem. Hollywood probably would have taken the noirish ending a step further, but the endgame doesn't lack for dramatic turns and tension.
Moviegoers may remember Baruchel, Hampshire and some of the rest of the cast from Tierney's clever comedy The Trotsky (2009), in which a wonky high school student imagines himself destined to lead a global workers' revolution based on a few coincidental dates and names and he battles school administrators with Marxist dogma. Good Neighbors also is a refreshingly offbeat and at times funny work, but it goes to much darker places. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello