Jacopo Costanti and Michele Costabile in "The Neighbor" Source: Dark Star Pictures

Review: 'The Neighbor' a Shallow Dive into a Hate Crime's Consequences

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Writer-director Pasquale Marrazzo's story of two men in love in Milano explores the consequences of allowing bullies to carry on unchecked, tracing the evolution of a love affair that's shadowed at every turn by the vicious predations of a neo-Nazi and his group of followers – and then observing the aftermath of a brutal homophobic attack.

The film takes place over a period of less than 24 hours, starting with Riki (Michele Costabile) and Luca (Jacopo Costanti) cuddling in a public park. A band of skinheads demands that they leave, then pursues them with insults and increasingly aggressive slaps, shoves, and kicks. The altercation sets the stage for what happens later: a beating that lands Luca in the hospital, where he fights for his life as his mother, father, and sister gather at his bedside. The family is religious; Riki is denied permission to visit his injured lover.

That indignity is only one of the burdens the young man must contend with. There's also the guilt of knowing that Riki, the longtime target of the leader of the neo-Nazis, could have taken legal action in response, but didn't, emboldening the perpetrator to greater abuses. The reason for Riki's reticence is a connection between the two families that's hinted at and then revealed in a confusing, out-of-left-field manner.

In addition to everything else, Riki's mother (who abandoned him as a child) is an addict prone to depressive episodes; she becomes more of a burden to him than a solace in a series of phone exchanges that drag on too long.

More energetic are the phone conversations Riki has with Luca's sister Rachele, who, taking pity, keeps Riki informed of Luca's medical condition but refuses to let him know which hospital Luca's at.

There's enough in the film's premise to make for a compelling drama, but Marrazzo adds more complications into Riki's backstory, loading more onto the film than its hour-and-a-half run time (or its low budget) can accommodate. More successful are the flashbacks that thread through the film: Scenes of Riki and Luca from early in their relationship, as Riki's troubles gradually come into cleaner focus and an attempt at a dinner gathering meant to bring the young men's families together ends in disaster put meat on the movie's narrative bones.

Marrazzo gives us enough to put the pieces together, but the film's airless, underpopulated quality drags down the pacing, energy, and emotional impact; there's a sterility about the film that even its most shocking moments can't dispel, in part because the jolts and revelations feel ham-handed and don't achieve the same sort of intuitive emotional resonance as the tender moments between the leads do.

"The Neighbor" is a mixed bag that borders on gay trauma porn, but the earnest performances of its lead actors carry it over the film's shortcomings.

"The Neighbor" premieres in theaters and on VOD June 6.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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