Dumped by his girlfriend for another man, things start looking up for John (Kristoffer Joner) when Anne (Cecilie Mosli), his hot new neighbour invites him next door. Things look even better when Anne introduces her even sexier sister Kim (Julia Schacht), whom she leaves in John’s care one afternoon. Anne claims her sister is agoraphobic after being assaulted months ago, something the sexually provocative Kim denies. Soon she and John are having wild sex on the couch and more disturbingly, trading vicious punches to the face.
A sleazy scenario for your average DTV ‘erotic thriller’ becomes in the hands of writer director Pål Sletaune’s a powerful, unsettling drama. An admitted Alfred Hitchcock devotee, Sletaune adopts the maestro’s fiendishly clever story construction: beginning with John’s heartbreak over his failed relationship, then teasing with what seems like a neurotic male’s dream fantasy. Cecilie Mosli and stage actress Julia Schacht (in a bold film debut) play their early scenes kittenish and playful, as the sisters tease a clearly uncomfortable John. But the conversation turns eerie once it becomes clear they know more about his private life than he realised. That Hitchcock touch is apparent in the way the sisters’ seemingly drab, everyday apartment slowly transforms into a nightmare labyrinth as the mind games grow more complex and the story turns ever more horrific.
Kristoffer Joner is a compelling lead, anguish written all over his face and driving his every action. The sex scene between John and Kim accomplishes more than mere titillation, revealing characters’ emotional frailty and neediness. This is not some flashy, style conscious exercise in sadomasochism. John is eaten away by the growing knowledge of what he has become (or has always been?) and can’t shrug off his indiscretions the way Michael Douglas does in countless lame psycho-sexual dramas.
Finally, Sletaune takes one of modern cinema’s most overused climactic twists and restores some of its freshness and emotional impact. Admirable in its narrative economy (check out that brisk running time), Naboer (Next Door) is a short, sharp shock to the system.