Review by Bob Ignizio
Rob Cohen's THE BOY NEXT DOOR perfectly replicates the vibe of such nineties “it's not a horror movie” thrillers as UNLAWFUL ENTRY, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, SWIMFAN, and THE CRUSH in which sexual attraction transforms seemingly nice and normal characters into obsessive stalkers who torment the objects of their affection in increasingly violent and elaborate ways. It's the kind of film that holds its nose in the air thinking its better than schlock like SAW or FRIDAY THE 13TH because of its big name stars and slicker production values, but at the end of the day is just as cheesy and exploitative as any “B” slasher flick.
Jennifer Lopez plays Claire Peterson, a high school literature teacher trying to decide whether or not to stay with her husband (John Corbett) after she discovers he's had a fling with an out of town co-worker. The couple's son Kevin (Ian Nelson) is rooting for reconciliation, but Claire's best friend (and her school's vice principal, played by Kristen Chenoweth) thinks she should stand firm and divorce the cheater.
Things get further complicated for Claire when 20 year old hunk Noah (Ryan Guzman) movies in next door to help his uncle cope with some medical issues. Noah seems like the perfect young man, helping Claire fix her garage door, acting as role model and protector for Kevin, and providing stimulating conversation thanks to his own interest in classic literature. He also has a habit of undressing in front of his open bedroom window, something that does not go unnoticed by Claire. It all leads up to one fateful night of passion. Claire tries to explain to Noah that it was just a one time thing that meant nothing, but it's too late: the obsession has begun.
There's just so much about this film that is ridiculous one scarcely knows where to start, but let's start with Noah. We can accept him being a 20 year old high school student. That's not exactly common, but it's not unheard of, either. But not only is he in amazingly good shape, he's also an expert on classical literature, has extensive knowledge of computers and technology, is an expert mechanic, possesses dead-eye marksmanship, and is a master of psychological manipulation. Who says kids today are lazy?
Sure, this kind of implausibility is par for the course with these kind of movies. In fact “par for the course” sums up every aspect of this by-the-numbers thriller, right down to the scene where a cat pops out for a cheap jump scare. Why bother revisiting this genre if you're not going to do something different or try to improve on it? Well, other than the fact that movies like this are cheap to make and tend to do well at the box office regardless of how many bad reviews they get. Guess I answered my own question.
At least everyone involved seems to realize they're making schlock and has fun with it. The cast, especially Guzman, frequently seem to be winking at the audience, and director Cohen (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, ALEX CROSS) is more than happy to deliver the exploitation movie goods. Star J-Lo doesn't do full nudity, but you see enough of her skin that your imagination won't have to work hard to fill in the gaps. Lexi Atkins as “the most beautiful girl in school” shows more in a gratuitous scene. And as for the violence, the movie takes a while to build up to it, but the final act offers up ample murder and mayhem (and some pretty nasty eye violence).
If one digs into the subtext of the film, its core message is very much conservative and kind of sexist. Basically, it seems to be saying that however wrong Claire's husband may have been to cheat on her in the first place, she was even more wrong to have a little fling of her own – even though the scene in which Claire and Noah have sex is a borderline rape anyway, with Claire repeatedly telling Noah to stop and him pushing ahead anyway because, you know, she WANTS it. Therefore, she deserves to be punished. The only way to come through her ordeal is for Claire and her family to fully reconcile, even though muscle car driving dad is still obviously in the midst of his midlife crisis. Hard to believe this was written by a woman, former criminal lawyer Barbara Curry.
Those merely looking for slick, cheap thrills will likely find that THE BOY NEXT DOOR delivers them. Those who might be interested in seeing a film of this sort that's actually good would be better served by renting Adam Wingard's THE GUEST at their local video store or via the streaming or On Demand platform of their choice. 2 out of 4 stars.