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DIRECTED BY: Nick Gatsby
FEATURING: Eric Willis, Scott Mitchell
PLOT: A hapless tenant finds himself dying at the hands of his neighbor over and over again.
COMMENTS: There’s a grandeur that kicks off Nick Gatsby’s first feature film that is both beautiful and disorienting. Haunting choral music, haunting wind sounds, and a haunting, burning moon (?) behind scraggly, leafless branches. The moon turns green, and there is a cut—appropriately—to psychedelically-lit puzzle pieces. This abstraction crops up throughout the rest of the film: interesting shots cut up by post-production static, over-exposure, jump cuts, and—my favorite—hilarious intertitles. With what seems like zero dollars on hand, but plenty of focus for fastidious editing and micro-effects, Gatsby has put together a creative anomaly; I wouldn’t describe it as a movie, per se, but it would hold its own among the video installations I’ve enjoyed at various modern art museums.
The story, such as it is, remains basic: a man mysteriously appears in a chair, slumped over. He awakens and is quickly menaced by a (largely) unseen neighbor. He’s about to be killed, and on a very short timer. Looming butterflies act as harbingers. Skulls appear, tiki bars are disregarded, and only in the fifth iteration do things seemingly fall into place.
Watching My Neighbor Wants Me Dead with a group was apt, as the chatter (pleasant though it was) acted as something of a distraction. And wouldn’t you know, the film’s tagline is “A film about distractions.” More than most (more straight-forward) narratives, My Neighbor lends itself to multiple interpretations. I saw it as a meditation on depression: the protagonist continually tries and fails to survive and get out of his door. Distractions subsume him: the promise of a “Tiki Bar,” threats from his neighbor, and even idly wandering through his barren apartment. Knowing a thing or two about depression myself, I know that one of the main challenges it presents the sufferer with is distraction: a simple, but driving distraction from being able to just face the day.
Gatsby earns plenty of bonus points for style, and several more for the oddball humor sprinkled throughout. There’s a cartoon intermission, plenty of ragtime music, and obscenely pictographed phrases during the intertitles. The ending did elicit a bit of, “Well, I should have seen that coming…”; but seeing as how I didn’t, I can’t complain. I am glad to say that I look forward to Gatsby’s next (great?) outing.
BONUS INTERVIEW: In the final minutes of the screening, filmmaker Nick Gatsby mysteriously appeared, telecommuting from his bunker in Colorado. The 366 crew all chipped in questions for him about his film. (Edited for coherency.)
366: What are your influences?
NG: Kinda the typical answers like Park Chan-Wook, , Jon Moritsugu, amongst others.and . I love ,
366: Korine is obvious in the visuals. How long did this take to make? I imagine you spent LESS time in writing, the normal amount of time shooting the thing, and a LOT MORE time in post-production. Accurate?
NG: What I love most is the unforgiving freedom of [Korine’s] movies and how he just really focuses on the art of an image or characters interacting. It took a month to shoot then a whole year to edit due to depression and just life, lol. Yeah, you’re correct there wasn’t much of a script rather than an outline of connected ideas.
366: Is the neighbor a metaphor for depression?
NG: The neighbor is a representation of fear itself, as well as the real life influence of my neighbor at the time. That was my actual apartment and the neighbor next door was banging on my door every other day threatening to kill me.
366: If I were to watch this again, do I need to pay more attention to the ways he dies each time? Are those important details or just kind of random?
NG: The deaths aren’t really the focus, its the distractions in the movie. The character is constantly being distracted from his main goal.
366: What do the butterflies symbolize?
NG: The butterflies might be giving away too much, but I will say I was researching a form of brainwashing at the time called MK-ultra and butterflies are a big symbol of MK-ultra because of a government program called Project Monarch. So the butterflies give a hint that he may be inside his own head. The butterflies are also sign that his time is up, because they fade after the 5 minutes.
366: I want to ask about… the tiki bar.
NG: The tiki bar is one of the distractions that have him focusing on what he can find in the kitchen drawers when he should be checking the closet, which the furnace gives hint to.
366: What was the significance of the closet and furnace?
NG: The furnace gives him the hint to check the closet once it starts sounding off. The closet is where he finds the dead man holding the key (or orb) to escape the apartment.
366: I can’t be the only one who thought he was going to eat that [orb] thing.
NG: Yeah, the orb connects with the skull to reveal the hidden exit in the back of the studio. The movie plays like a video game, I was probably influenced more by the first “Resident Evil” for this more than other movies.
366: Other than video games, what got you into film?
NG: Right, a lot of ’80s and ’90s games were big on the structure of the film. “Night Trap” was another influence. It’s a really cheesy game lol—it’s on The Room level of entertainment.
I was always a weird kid thinking up ideas but it wasn’t till I got older that I realized people actually make movies for a career. My sister got me into collecting movies and I started writing scripts. I got rejected from film school so I started teaching myself and got addicted.
366: Was it difficult to get it on Amazon Prime?
NG: It wasn’t difficult, but it took forever thanks to Covid.
366: I’m still blown away that it’s based on an actual neighbor…
NG: Yeah that guy was crazy, pretty sure he was on drugs. Never talked to him once, but on the day I was moving out he apologized and gave me a really awesome bracelet he made out of chain links.
366: Thank you very much for showing up Nick. I was nervous myself about this one, I confess, but it was enjoyable and creative.
NG: Thank you guys so much it was an honor to have you guys sit through this nightmare of mine 🙂
(This movie was nominated for review by “Nick” [hmm…] Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)