New year. New you. New movies. As far as the latter goes, director Josh Forbes’ splatter comedy, Destroy All Neighbors, is an entertaining kickoff to 2024 that perfectly captures the pressure of achieving your goals when the fear of failure stands in the way like some bridge troll intent on bashing your brains in.
Will (Jonah Ray) is a struggling prog-rock musician who has spent years working on his first album, yet just can’t seem to finish it. Making matters worse, Vlad (Alex Winter) has just moved into the apartment next door, and he might be an actual neighbor from hell. Impossibly strong. Menacing. And with a penchant for turning his music to eleven, Will finds it impossible to focus. But when a request to turn the music down leaves Vlad in pieces—though not dead—the unfinished album becomes the least of Will’s problems.
Produced by and co-starring Alex Winter—in a role where he is virtually unrecognizable as the disgruntled Vlad--Destroy All Neighbors strums a similar oddball chord as the Bill and Ted movies that the actor is perhaps best known for. Giddy as a kid with one of those Creepy Crawlers Bug Makers from the 90s—look it up, it was awesome—and coupled with a banging score, writers Mike Benner, Jared Logan and Charles A. Pieper inject a childish sense of humor into the script that urges the viewer to kick their feet up and have a twisted laugh. Forbes’ film loads up on disgusting gags and chaotic nonsense that have it feeling like a live-action cartoon. No amount of wild gore is too much. No idea too absurd. Ever wanted to see the drums played by anthropomorphic intestines? Destroy All Neighbors has you covered. Through it all, Winter and Ray deliver manic performances that are so over-the-top you might feel like you’re losing your mind. Maybe you are.
It isn’t all boogers and blood, though. Underneath the mucus-lined surface of this strange descent into madness is a thoughtful reflection on the pressures of success and our fear in never achieving it. Will’s story about struggling to finish his creative work is an engaging one that many of us have found ourselves in. The decrepit walls of his apartment building. The nasty neighbor. His hesitance towards confrontation. All notes in the song of creative depression that wears us down. Forbes creates a heightened sense of reality through smoky neon and trippy visuals to highlight the utter insanity of the anxiety that comes with that sense that we’ll never “make it”. You might spend most of the runtime asking what the hell is going on and wondering if any of this is real or if Will has finally broken under the pressure to fulfill his dream, but this is one of those that’s more about the introspective journey than the (admittedly underwhelming) destination.
That’s what makes Destroy All Neighbors an apt horror film to begin the new year with. January is that time when we all reset and try to find perspective on our lives. Resolutions are made. Goals are set. Yet those promises often meet February like a bug splattering on a windshield. Through Will, Forbes’ film says “keep going”. There’s something inspiring about watching a guy who believes so deeply in the form of music he wants to bring to the world—even if most hate it—and pushing through obstacle after obstacle in his mission to get there. Want to be a novelist? Write that book. Want to be a painter? Paint that piece. Being afraid to fail is okay. Natural, even. But you’re not going to get there by letting your doubts run the show, a recurring theme of this practical effects extravaganza.
As is often repeated in the film, “not everyone will get it, but the right ones will”. The same can be said for any piece of art, including Destroy All Neighbors. It will be too weird, too goofy, maybe even too dumb for some. The film is all of those things and then some. This sort of phlegm-coated comedy requires a certain appreciation for immature humor, and thin character relationships plus ineffective tension won’t keep you engaged if you’re not along for a ride of dumb fun. But for those who enjoy a filmic loogie of gross-out entertainment, Destroy All Neighbors is a slimy ball of chaotic energy with a bit of heart mixed in that’ll have you wanting to give the finger to that fiendish voice that claims you’ll never make it. Sure you will. You got this. Undead neighbors be damned.
Destroy All Neighbors arrives on Shudder January 12th.
By Matt Konopka