Destroy All Neighbors (2024)
Director: Josh Forbes
Screenwriters: Mike Benner, Jared Logan, Charles A. Pieper
Starring: Jonah Ray, Kiran Deol, Randee Heller, Alex Winter, DeMorge Brown, Thomas Lennon, Kumail Nanjiani
Horror is a genre that never took itself incredibly seriously even in its infancy. When Ann Radcliffe was writing her influential gothic mysteries in the late 1790s like “The Mysteries of Udolpho” and “The Italian”, at the same time Jane Austen was mentioning them in “Northanger Abbey” and using them to deconstruct ideas of ridiculous fantasies. Just over a decade after the Universal monster movies came along in the 1930s with Dracula and Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello faced off against those characters in spoof crossover monster rallies. And when the B movies of the 1970s and 1980s came along, parodying Roger Corman’s cheap shockers with even cheaper blood and guts, Troma entertainment really took up the position of seeing how far they could go.
Destroy All Neighbors is a film that knows it is inherently stupid. It’s a story about William (Jonah Ray, a struggling prog rock musician trying to keep it together with his girlfriend Emily (Kiran Deol) and hold down a job at a struggling recording studio. All he wants to do is finish his prog album that he has been trying to finish for three years, but now the music coming from next door as a result of new neighbour Vlad (Alex Winter) is ruining his focus. When William goes to confront Vlad, things get bloody very quickly, and even the ghosts of the damned won’t let him finish his album in peace.
The film’s primary issue is that these kinds of over-the-top horror-comedy B movie sendups are actually very difficult to pull off, because the joke gets old incredibly quickly. Films which get raucous laughs at the start end up feeling stale by the end. Introduce a world where the modern rules don’t apply, and by the mid-way point, these non-rules have become the norm, and the intrigue is lost. We’ve become used to it. Even films such as Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) and its subsequent films have to constantly try to find new ways to keep the jokes fresh and entertaining or else risk falling into shock factor alone and getting stale. It’s not just horror that has this problem: The Matrix: Resurrections (2021) had exactly the same issue, using one meta fanservice joke for far too long pretending to be clever, the novelty wearing off after just a few moments. Destroy All Neighbors has this same issue in that it isn’t entertaining enough to land the madness, the jokes fall flat, and the horror comes in far too late for anyone to get a kick out of it. Added to that, it simply doesn’t up the stupidity enough throughout to maintain the level of absurdity it believes it does.
As it slumps through its 80 minutes of runtime, it suddenly finds it has to cram a lot in to a very small amount of time at the 30 minute mark. There’s some sympathy built up for our main two leads before this, so that’s something, and there’s a wonderful cameo scene by Kumail Nanjiani that runs a joke to the borders of getting stale but ends it just in time, but it’s not enough to keep anyone engaged with the story. By the time the finale comes in and our team of ragtag undead misfits have one final crack at finishing their long-awaited album, it’s a decent scene complete with rock-off final moments reminiscent of Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny (though not as good), but we’ve already checked out. It’s a shame, because it’s not a bad ending in itself, with a joke about Emily’s Big Bear story, well known to her friends for being outrageously long-winded, being a wonderful device and touch of real-world humour that feels like the first joke to hit because it’s so natural and true to life.
Like so many films that have their primary aim to try to be ‘ridiculous’, Destroy All Neighbors ends up stuck in a middle ground of being too little of everything, instead of making the choice to go either one route very hard, or every route to an absurd, extremist degree. Renfield (2023) had a similar issue in that it didn’t go for enough stupidity hard enough, and 2022’s Bullet Train fell into the same unfortunate trap. Perhaps its simply the Western system (or at least, the Western mainstream system, as mainstream as Shudder can be), because a film like Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse (2014) truly encapsulated how stupidly mad a film could be whilst still being outrageously entertaining for the entirety of its runtime. Destroy All Neighbors isn’t the worst film in existence; it is inoffensive but unmemorable, failing to deliver on its outrageous promise to its audience.