Chan-woo takes a night off studying for his police exam to go drinking with old friends. The next thing he knows, he’s waking up in the apartment next door with a violent hangover, a cracked phone screen, a bruise on his cheek — and a dead body on the floor.
“Next Door,” a student film by South Korean director Yeom Ji-ho, takes place almost entirely within two neighboring apartments as Chan-woo pieces together the events of the previous night while avoiding suspicion of any wrongdoing himself.
In a lesser film, this restricted setting would do little more than signify a low production budget. But “Next Door” fully capitalizes on its cramped space for dramatic effect, keeping its characters trapped within the confines of doors, windows, and closets. The screenplay and cinematography work in tandem to turn an average student apartment into a pressure cooker, creating an unyielding air of suspense even when the next threat is yet to be revealed.
Despite its premise and claustrophobic nature, “Next Door” is far from a gritty crime story. Chan-woo may be studying to become a cop, but he’s failed the exam several times, and this is clearly his first brush with a real crime scene.
Additionally, the film maintains an ironic sense of comedy throughout. The overwhelmed and easily distracted protagonist can never quite piece anything together without help from an outside source.
With a film of this nature, a twist is inevitable. “Next Door” is well aware of this fact and uses it to manipulate audience expectations.
The first half of the film spends so much time hinting towards the most obvious twist that viewers are as blindsided as Chan-woo when something unexpected does happen. The film’s carefully crafted narration keeps the audience guessing and accentuates the suspense with healthy doses of ambiguity and distrust.
These elements combine to create a surprisingly unique tone that defies easy classification. “Next Door” isn’t a pure thriller, black comedy or satire, but a cleverly crafted tale of deduction and morality in a confusing situation. The film is less concerned with formal genre conventions, instead choosing to provoke a series of visceral reactions, whether they be laughs, gasps or bated breaths.
“Next Door” is not the kind of movie you’ll talk about years later. But its smart writing, cinematography and editing add up to a solid comedy thriller that’s well worth its 90-minute runtime.