By: Steph Cannon
In a time when haunted house tales are a dime a dozen, filmmakers face the challenge of making their story fresh, unique, and impactful. This can be particularly difficult when involving a child, as this is a fairly common plot. THE EVIL NEXT DOOR, the feature debut from Swedish filmmakers Tord Danielsson and Oskar Mellender, tackles this notion head-on by providing equal parts chills and tugs at the heartstrings.
Stating that it's inspired by true events, this subtitled, foreign language film begins with recently widowed Fredrik (Linus Wahlgren) moving into a new duplex with his young son Lukas (Eddie Eriksson Dominguez) and girlfriend Shirin (Dilan Gwyn). While it's a rather formulaic plot device, we quickly get the sense that this is a family who is desperately trying to find peace and happiness. Lukas is learning to cope with the loss of his mother, while Shirin is going through the motions of becoming comfortable with being a stepmother.
While all this would be enough of a challenge on its own, matters are further complicated when Fredrik is required to leave Shirin and Lukas for a few days, due to work responsibilities. He gives her a rather brusque "you'll be fine" speech before leaving, and her hesitation and discomfort are palpable. Regardless, she wants to do right by her new family, and begins to fall into her new role.
As expected, strange and foreboding events begin to occur. It's made well -known from the start that the adjacent unit is empty, but precocious Lucas picks up on hints of activity. This is where the typical "things that go bump in the night" occurrences take place, but the predictability ends there. Lukas has a "friend" next door, an entity he is seen playing hide and seek with. One night, he pointedly asks Shirin, "Can a dead person come back?" Naturally, she assumes he's speaking about his mother, but he insists that this isn't about her. It's enough to raise alarm bells for the perceptive Shirin, and soon after, she, too, experiences the noises and shadowy figures coming from the neighboring home.
In a refreshing twist, Shirin and Lukas are shown as a unit, attempting to get to the root of these happenings together. It would be easy to portray her as the dismissive, disbelieving adult, especially in her particular situation. Instead, it's Fredrik who comes across as cold and incredulous when Shirin describes to him what has been taking place. Understandably frustrated, she decides to take matters into her own hands, and continue to investigate while also struggling to keep Lukas safe. She inquires about the family who lived in the unit to both the agent who sold them the home as well as neighbors. In both situations, she receives the same evasive and hasty response that a child went missing, but no further information is given.
The threat immediately increases, and Lukas reveals that the "boogeyman" resides next door, feeding off people's terror while going after young children. By now, this is no longer about Shirin stumbling through learning how to parent; she has fully embraced her responsibility to Lukas, and launches into protective mode. This is where the true beauty of the film lies. Once matters come to a head, we see a completely different Shirin than the unwilling, uncomfortable stepparent thrust into care-taking. This is a mother; one who will stop at nothing to protect her child, even if it means risking her own life.
At its core, THE EVIL NEXT DOOR is a quintessential ghost story, with plenty of jump scares and dark, ambiguous scenes to satisfy any horror fan. Beneath all that, however, is an emotional study of the family unit, a mother's love, and the lengths humans will go to in order to save their loved ones.
THE EVIL NEXT DOOR arrives in theaters and on demand June 25th, 2021.