July 8, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Oskar Mellender and Tord Danielsson
Swedish with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Sweden in 2014, the horror film “The Evil Next Door” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A widower, his live-in girlfriend and the widower’s young son move to a new house, where the boy seems to have found a mysterious friend with sinister intentions.
Culture Audience: “The Evil Next Door” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a slow-paced and boring horror movie with a “haunted house” concept that has been done many times before and much better in other movies.
The epitome of dull and derivative, “The Evil Next Door” is a poorly made ripoff of higher-quality horror films about haunted houses where a child is the first person in the house to communicate with the evil spirit. And predictably, the evil spirit wants to kidnap the child. It’s a concept that was done well in movies such as 1982’s “Poltergeist” and 2014’s “The Babadook.” But “The Evil Next Door” brings nothing new or imaginative to this concept and wastes a lot of time with repetitive scenes, generic characters who act illogically, and scare set-ups that aren’t terrifying at all.
Written and directed by Oskar Mellender and Tord Danielsson, “The Evil Next Door” is the duo’s first feature film, after years of working in Swedish television. According to a statement that Danielsson makes in “The Evil Next Door” production notes, the movie is supposedly based on the real-life experience of “a family who claimed to have experienced something very scary and paranormal in 2014. According to them, some kind of entity had tried to take their child.” Danielsson says that he and Mellender “came in contact with” this family, which wants to remain anonymous. But apparently, this filmmaking duo learned nothing about what to put in a movie that would make this story interesting or convincing in what real people would do in this situation.
“The Evil Next Door” takes place in an unnamed city in Sweden in 2014. The opening scene is set in a stereotypically spooky-looking dark house. A mother—viewers find out later that her name is Jenny Lindvall (played by Karin Lithman)—frantically searches for her daughter Kim (played by Hilma Alm), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. There’s a brief flash of Kim being dragged screaming into another room, while Jenny runs into the room, only to find it empty.
The next scene shows a family of three driving to the place that will eventually become their new home. (It’s the same house.) In the car are widower Fredrik (played by Linus Wahlgren); his son Lucas (played by Eddie Eriksson Dominguez), who’s about 5 or 6 years old; and Fredrik’s girlfriend Shirin (played by Dilan Gwyn), who seems a little nervous. Shirin is feeling anxious because this move is a big step for her and Fredrik. Not only will it be the first time that the couple will be living together, but they will also be buying the house.
It’s such a big commitment that even Lucas is aware of it. While Fredrik is out of the car to get gas, Lucas asks Shirin if she will be his new mother if she and Fredrik move in together. Shirin uneasily replies no. And she feels even more ill at ease when Lucas asks her, “Will you die too?” It’s revealed later in the movie that Lucas’ mother (whose name is never mentioned) died of cancer, but the movie never says how long ago that happened.
After getting a brief tour of the house from a real-estate agent, Fredrik and Shirin decide to buy it. Their move-in date is September 26, 2014. “The Evil Next Door,” which has the pace of a snail, keeps showing the date for each of the movie’s sequences, so that viewers can eventually see that everything that happens in this story occurred within one month. In this story, it takes several days for them to get to the real horror. The movie is only 87 minutes long, but it feels like longer.
Throughout the movie, it’s shown that while Fredrik has a close and loving relationship with Lucas, Shirin still feels like an outsider in this family, when it comes to parenting Lucas. For example, there’s more than one scene where Shirin watches somewhat enviously when Fredrik sings a goodnight lullaby with Lucas before Lucas goes to sleep. When Shirin is alone with Lucas, she acts more like a slightly uncomfortable babysitter than a parental figure, although slowly (which is how this movie operates) Shirin begins to warm up to Lucas. Shirin and the rest of the characters in the movie still have nothing charismatic or memorable about their personalities.
“The Evil Next Door” is so badly written, there’s no backstory explaining how long Fredrik and Shirin have been together. Shirin doesn’t have a job, while Fredrik has a vague, unnamed job where he wears a building construction or maintenance jacket at a place that looks like a non-descript warehouse. It’s a new job for Fredrik that requires him to work weeknights “for a while,” as he tells Shirin, who encouraged Fredrik to take the job.
The movie has somewhat of a sexist implication that because a man won’t be in the house at night, that will put Shirin and Lucas in more danger. It doesn’t take long for Lucas to tell Shirin that he’s found a “friend” in the house. Lucas starts talking to this “friend,” who’s a boy whom Shirin can’t see, so she assumes that Lucas has an imaginary playmate.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of “The Evil Next Door” is a repetitive cycle of Lucas talking about or talking to this “friend,” and Shirin not believing that this “friend” is real. She finds out that Lucas has mentioned this “friend” to his schoolteacher and classmates. And predictably, Lucas draws a picture of himself with the “friend,” which looks like a sinister black stick figure. It’s what you do when you’re a kid with an unseen friend in a dumb haunted house movie.
“The Evil Next Door” also has unncessary scenes (which are all a red herring) to make it look like the evil spirit could be in the house next door. Lucas insists that this mystery boy who wants to be his friend lives next door. It’s all just time-wasting nonsense, because it’s easy to see that the evil spirit is inside the house where Lucas, Shirin and Fredrik live. Most of the movie is an irritating repeat loop of Lucas hearing a boy whispering to him in rooms, followed by brief glimpses of what looks like a boy running across the screen or lurking in rooms before disappearing.
Meanwhile, Lucas asks Shirin questions about the afterlife, such as if someone can come back from the dead to live on Earth again. She says no. Lucas doesn’t seem to like that answer because he wants to see his dead mother again. When Shirin tells Lucas that there is no boy next door, Lucas pouts and tells her, “You’re mean. You’re not my mother.”
There’s also a creepy attic in the house that Shirin only goes into and explores at night, because in idiotic horror movies like this one, people never go into a creepy attic during the day. As soon as viewers see that this house has an attic, you just know there’s going to be a scene where someone is going to get attacked in the attic. It’s just all so formulaic.
Eventually, Shirin has supernatural experiences herself. She knocks on a wall and hears someone or something inside the wall knocking in response. Then she sees a shadowy-looking boy running across the lawn outside. She’s so freaked out that she calls Fredrik and the police, who find nothing out of the ordinary. Fredrik starts to think that Shirin might be going crazy.
Meanwhile, Lucas warns Shirin that a bogeyman is out to get him and that it’s the bogeyman who did the knocking inside the walls—the same walls where Lucas could hear his mystery “friend” talk. Kid, make up your mind. Are you being haunted by a boy or a bogeyman? Cue the predictable scenes of Lucas being dragged out of bed by an unknown force, Shirin rushing into a room when she hears Lucas screaming, and then finding nothing there.
After a while, Fredrik begins to think Shirin might be abusing Lucas, because every time Fredrik comes home from work, he hears stories about Lucas being frightened and physically attacked by something unexplained. Shirin denies abusing Lucas, of course, but it puts a big strain on her relationship with Fredrik. She begs Lucas to confirm to Fredrik that she’s telling the truth, but the kid is no real help.
Apparently, dimwits Fredrik and Shirin bought the house without bothering to find out anything about the house’s previous owners and why the house was being sold. When strange things start happening in the house, Fredrik and Shirin still don’t bother to find out the house’s background story. It’s only when Shirin is at an outdoor neighborhood family event with Lucas that she hears from a local mother named Tilda (played by Kima Heibel) what happened to the house’s previous owners.
The house’s previous owners—a married couple named Peter Lindvall (played by Henrik Norlén) and Jenny Lindvall—sold the house, because shortly after they moved in, their daughter Kim disappeared. This information finally prompts Shirin to do an Internet search for more details. She finds a newspaper article online that confirms that the Lindvalls’ child Kim had disappeared.
This movie is so stupid, it has a subplot where Shirin thinks that Kim is a boy, and she thinks that he’s the same boy who is Lucas’ imaginary friend. Never mind that the movie clearly showed in the beginning that the Kim was a girl. And any newspaper article or media story about the child’s disappearance would also identify Kim as a girl.
One of the most annoying things about “The Evil Next Door”—besides being so tedious, unoriginal and badly written—is the terrible cinematography. For the horror scenes, everything is too dark inside, even in the daytime. It’s unrealistic and tries too hard to look scary, which results in it looking overly staged and not scary at all. Even the scenes inside the house at night are ridiculously dark. It will just make viewers think, “Don’t these people know how to turn on the lights in their own house?”
The screenwriting also has plot developments that go nowhere. For example, Shirin buys a hidden camera that she installs in Lucas’ room. The first time that Shirin monitors the room with the camera, she sees the mystery boy and gets scared. And then she never uses the camera again. If she wanted to prove that something eerie was going on in Lucas’ room, then apparently using the camera’s recording function was just too mentally hard for her.
And viewers should forget about finding out what happened to Kim, because that issue is never resolved in the movie. Why bother with that opening scene when it ends up being useless? It’s an example of the movie’s sloppy editing, that includes jump cut scenes that show Shirin in one area of a room and then one second later, she’s in another area of the room when it would’ve been physically impossible for her to get there so quickly. It’s very amateurish filmmaking.
It should come as no surprise that the creature haunting this house really is a bogeyman monster, which is played by Troy James, a contortionist who has done similar roles in the horror movies “Separation” and “Black Box.” All of the acting is nothing special, although Ericsson Dominguez’s portrayal of Lucas shows he has promise as an actor who’s capable of a convincing range of emotions. It’s too bad all of this movie’s cast members were limited by such a moronic screenplay.
The final showdown scene and how this movie ends are as bland and cliché as can be. Even people who don’t watch a lot of horror movies will be underwhelmed, because everything in “The Evil Next Door” was done already in other movies. There’s some familiarity in horror movies that can be effective if a movie brings some original scares. “The Evil Next Door” just lazily copies what too many other haunted house movies have done and makes it worse with stale and substandard writing and directing.
Magnet Releasing released “The Evil Next Door” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 25, 2021.