Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The People Next Door (2016)

Ben Chanan, the man behind previous Channel 4 one off dramas Cyberbully and Blackout, brings us another astute and chilling 'state of the nation' in The People Next Door. If you think we've become a society that films, photographs and records absolutely everything - that we are all now Big Brother - that privacy is not only  a thing of the past but we have unwittingly taken part in its destruction, then this film will confirm all your worst fears.

The film commences with  the happy and attractive young couple Gemma and Richard, played by Joanna Horton and Karl Davies. They have recently moved into a new home and, in the opening scene, its revealed that Gemma is pregnant - we see her hurrying into the bedroom with the positive pregnancy test in one hand and a video camera in the other, capturing her partner's reaction to the news. But the video isn't just used for the major events of their lives, Gemma and Richard are clearly a couple who film every little detail. Yes, they're that annoying smugly satisfied couple that you inevitably end up sitting next to at gigs, never living in the moment, always recording the here and now for the future. From that opening scene on, it comes as no surprise to see that every moment of the film is captured on camera. 

When Richard and Gemma start to hear noises next door suggesting arguments and beatings, they become concerned - especially for their neighbour's children, in particular the youngest, a toddler who one day wandered into their home unsupervised and disappeared not long afterwards. Suspicious, and fearing that the young boy is being kept against his will, they begin to start what they call an 'evidence log', capturing every suspicious noise through the walls and comings and goings from the house. But when does evidence become surveillance?  When does concern become obsession? Have they even the right to be concerned - is this all just something they've blown up out of proportion and dreamt up in their own heads, the product of Gemma's febrile, emotional mind? As their quest for the truth spirals out of control we're left to ask just who really is breaking the law here, the neighbours or Richard and Gemma themselves?

The People Next Door is a genuinely creepy experience, reminiscent of Hollywood's 'Found Footage' thrillers like Paranormal Activity or, for a more closer to home comparison, Andrea Arnold's Red Road. There's even a pinch of the  yuppies-in-peril genre there too in the way it pitches the respectable, upmarket young couple against Kate Fleetwood and Anthony Flanagan's less salubrious, grubby looking next door neighbours. But though these comparisons stand, Chanan's urban nightmare is topical, disturbing and challenging enough to be distinctive and important in its own right. Once again, Chanan has held a mirror up to his audience and dared us to look at it to see if it reflects back some unpalatable truth we'd rather not admit to possessing.

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