Initially, the circumstances in "The Boy Next Door" are innocent enough: Claire (Jennifer Lopez), a newly divorced high-school literature teacher, meets Noah (Ryan Guzman), a charismatic 19-year-old student/neighbor. He helps Claire fix a broken garage door, teaches her 17-year-old son Kevin (Ian Nelson) how to talk to girls and is soon a regular at the house for dinner.
Very quickly they establish a rapport and a one-night stand follows. Noah falls in love. Claire doesn't. He stalks her. She tries to keep the liaison a secret, but events soon spiral out of control.
It’s a clear-cut simple story that’s familiar in cinema sans any twists.
Claire’s husband, Garrett (John Corbett), we learn, cheated on her nine months earlier. Both are separated but Claire’s still vulnerable hence why she ends up having a steamy sex session with her student who equally shares her love for literature.
“Smart people do dumb things. They make mistakes.” That’s definitely a line we hear in the film to justify her action.
The film aims for unease and does achieve it plus the gradual progression of obsession works quite well. Guzman is very effective as the perfectly charismatic and complimentary psycho whose charming and flirtatious demeanor turns quickly into a dangerous, violent obsession. It’s engaging to watch him go from the boy next door to a sociopath and become increasingly unhinged, progressing from stalking to physical attacks. On one occasion, he shows up unannounced at her house, on another, he hacks into her computer and enrolls in her literature class and repeatedly taunts her.
Co-produced by Jennifer Lopez, director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) has created a set of initially believable characters, placed them in a familiar situation, and then drastically upped the stakes. Unfortunately, motivations, psychological concerns and common sense are thrown out the window, which means the end is less than satisfying. Once he’s established the circumstances and the dastardly deed occurs we then merely follow a man scorned as he tries to get revenge for getting the brush-off. Other cast members with small roles include Kristin Chenoweth as Claire’s best friend and Hill Harper as the school principal.
The thriller aspects of the story, and suspense don’t lead up to an expected climactic showdown in this one. Formula basically works here and it’s one that’s beginning to wear a tad too thin.
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