Saturday, January 24, 2015

"The Boy Next Door" inverts the "teacher-student-inappropriate-relationship" problem and makes it into stereotyped stalker horror

The Boy Next Door”, a stereotyped January thriller form Rob Cohen, takes up an important topic – a teacher’s inappropriate relations with a student – but turns it into typical B-movie stuff with all the ingenious but clichéd plot points and devices for a “damsel in distress”. 
Jennifer Lopez plays Claire Peterson, who teaches AP junior English in a Bay Area high school.  Okay, she can’t “accept” an old library copy of Homer’s Iliad as a “gift”, and that rings a bell.  Her marriage (husband played by John Corbett) is on the rocks because of his philandering, and the most likable teenage geek son Kevin (Ian Nelson), first a geek, is encountering unlikely problems with high school bullies.
Enter “the boy next door”, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), who seems like a handyman in all things, including fixing a garage door opener, and who even teaches Kevin to replace a car alternator.  Noah is supposedly taking care of an uncle after both parents mysteriously died.  (Red flag.)  He starts “moving in” on Claire, and soon signs up to be in her class after a mysterious high school transfer.
Noah says he’s 19, and the actor who plays him is 27 (and looks it, although there really shouldn’t be that much difference).  That takes the “underage” aspect out of the story, even though it’s still a crime to have sex with one’s public school students (see ABC report on TV blog, Sept. 29, 2012).  But it’s Noah who has turned things upside down.

It isn’t too long before Claire figures out he is a psychopathic stalker, and the movie is predicated in part on school officials behaving in ways that are unlikely. Noah, along the way, hacks into the school’s system.

Yes, there’s a lot wrong with the “characters” here.  First, take Kevin.  It’s really not likely a kid with this temperament would take up boxing, or drive a sports car 100 mph in the California Coast Mountains, even his dad in it.  And then Noah himself.   Thankfully, it is very unusual for someone like this to be in an AP track – almost unheard of.  The whole concept of the character seems cynical, the old “clay feet” concept.

There are other movies to compare this to – most of all, Lifetime’s 2003 thriller “Student Seduction”, reviewed here May 4. 2010.  That film took up the idea that a female teacher could be prosecuted if she was set up by a male student.  But here, prosecution and serious discipline from the school system seem far away, even as Mrs. Peterson has to clean up her classroom after Noah vandalizes it with the principal and students trying to come in.  In fact, this newer film starts out a little like a Lifetime movie, before it wanders into more conventional stalker horror.

I’ve often talked about my own rogue screenplay “The Sub” on these pages.  In my screenplay, the precious student saves the Sub’s life with a defibrillator before a somewhat (and ambiguous) improper “relationship” starts, but the plot never turns violent;  in fact, after the “sub’s” death in prison (from the heart condition), the kid performs the sub’s’ music publicly.  In this new film, the student does save the son’s life in one scene by giving an adrenalin shot after the kid goes into shock.  That also figures into the plot later.

It's sad to see a serious trend these days -- teachers getting arrested for inappropriate relations with students -- turned into rather silly entertainment.  The national trend of busts and arrests (not to mention ruined lives) has rapidly increased since about 2006.  And some of the defendants are women. 

The official site is here
I saw the film before a small audience at Regal Ballston Common Friday evening, in a large auditorium.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Bodega Bay, CA, which I visited in December 1966 and then November 1995, site if the Hitchcock film “The Birds”. 

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