If any horror fan ever dreamed of seeing Alex Winter from Bill and Ted portray a demon who plays prog rock, Destroy All Neighbors has them covered. Destroy All Neighbors is a successful modern horror comedy that feels like a step inside the 1980s. Directed by John Forbes, the Shudder original is zany, morbid, and sickly funny — causing the film to feel like a gorier version of Beetlejuice. Yet while the movie does borrow from many camp classics, it maintains its own identity. And even though it’s outlandish for much of its runtime, it contains a massive amount of heart and relatability, which could very well help catapult this movie to cult status.
Destroy All Neighbors stars Jonah Ray as William Brown, a down on his luck musician who dreams of finishing his ambitious progressive rock album but constantly gets in the way of his own success. He works gigs as a sound engineer where he is disrespected, and he hardly ever stands up for himself. William’s girlfriend, Emily (Kiran Deol), grows frustrated with his behavior, but things escalate when the obnoxiously loud Vlad (played by Winter) moves into their apartment building.
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After banging on the wall in his apartment to try to quiet Vlad down, William discovers that Vlad is actually an otherworldly being. Vlad begins to make William’s life a living hell — but this nightmarish neighbor may be just what William needs to achieve his goals. While Destroy All Neighbors is a 1980s throwback horror delight, it’s the dynamic performances and ghoulish yet endearing characters that make the movie truly stand out.
Destroy All Neighbors works on many levels, sucking the viewer into its macabre yet hilarious story instantaneously. At the beginning of the film, Ray portrays William as a sad-sack who lacks ambition and lets people around him walk all over him. As he changes after meeting his new ghoulish pals, Ray effectively showcases a new side of his character, and the transformation is very fun to watch. William’s experiences are reflections of events artists go through every day — but the supernatural twist adds a nice dose of surrealism to a relatable story.
The fact that William learns so much about being a human through the film’s bizarre events makes this horror comedy all the more rewarding. A common theme in Destroy All Neighbors is that friendship is the key to achieving greatness. William realizes that many people who he failed to engage with while chasing his dreams could have helped him. The script may be filled with gnarly death scenes and gross-out gags, but it still touches upon very powerful, heartfelt themes that tie everything together.
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The directing elevates the well-written script, with Forbes turning an ordinary apartment building into a personal hell. The cinematography adds a nice layer of grime, further establishing the film’s distinct aesthetic. Every location is extremely detailed. Destroy All Neighbors manages to take very ordinary things and amp up the intensity, resulting in some truly over the top scenes. The plot goes in several wacky directions that many audience members won’t see coming from a mile away. Whenever the film starts to steer straight into horror territory, something uproariously funny happens, creating a perfect balance in tone.
Some of the best sequences of Destroy All Neighbors are when the film leans into its comedy, like when Vlad and William pal around at a macabre party filled with undead creatures and cocaine. Winter and Roy’s chemistry is undeniable and helps guide the movie. There are also plenty of other highly memorable performances throughout the film — most notably Randee Heller as quirky landlady Eleanor Prescott. Eleanor is extremely well-written and cleverly acted by Heller, resulting in a character reminiscent of someone found in the Wayans Brothers’ first two Scary Movie films.
Deol is hilarious in the film’s climax, delivering an extremely funny monologue that should have been extended. One critique is that the script could have delved deeper into the character of Emily, as well as the relationship between Emily and William. She sometimes comes across simply as a fed-up manic pixie dream girl, despite how great Deol is in the role.
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The second part of the film becomes somewhat of a slasher, but the uproarious humor comes back in full force by the third act. For horror lovers, the film still has some gnarly sequences, like a character’s intestines coming alive after he is cut up into pieces. There is also a glorious battle between frenemies William and Vlad. The makeup for Vlad’s final form is phenomenal, with the lovable antagonist sporting a design that manages to be fun and frightening at the same time.
Music is the unexpected heart and soul of this film. The plot always manages to bounce back to William’s love of music, and the music takes full control in the final 20 minutes. The movie’s climax delivers a fantastic musical number, essentially transforming the film into a macabre rock opera during its last scenes. The ending further showcases that Destroy All Neighbors is a horror comedy with meaning, equipped with much more than just shock value.
But that’s one example of how Destroy All Neighbors is not afraid to take risks — and the risks pay off. Other horror comedies like Renfield do too much at once, resulting in a frustrating experience for both horror fans and comedy enthusiasts. In this film, all the creative choices stay true to the essence of the story. Forbes’ clear objective is to use extreme supernatural situations as a metaphor for the frustrations William feels in his everyday life. Unexpected turns don’t mean inconsistencies in tone, and the movie never goes so far off the deep end that viewers can’t see how they got there.
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Another fun thing about the movie is the nonstop world-building done by screenwriters Mike Benner, Jared Logan and Charles A. Pieper. Destroy All Neighbors is set in a society similar to the real world, but there’s a clear sense that something is very off. Everything feels like it’s set in the real world until someone ends up being a demon. The screenwriters tackle this tricky balance of tone with ease. The movie has material that would even make for a great horror comedy TV series, since its characters are rich and the world that the screenwriters built allows for endless possibilities. William and Vlad’s story could really be taken anywhere, and since all of the movie’s characters are so easy to fall in love with, it would be great to see them continue their hysterical journey into the depths of hell.
For fans of old-school horror comedies that used to lean into the comedy full force, Destroy All Neighbors is the perfect film. Its plot is easy to follow, the ghoulish set pieces are memorable, and the jokes come just as often as the gore. There is no clashing of tones, which is rare for a movie of this nature. Winter and Ray play off each other perfectly, and the characters are as relatable as they are unbelievably bizarre. Destroy All Neighbors is a hilarious and memorable blend of genres that delivers on all its promises.
Destroy All Neighbors is now streaming on Shudder.
Destroy All Neighbors
- Release Date
- January 12, 2024
- Josh Forbes
- Kumail Nanjiani , Thomas Lennon , Alex Winter , Jon Daly
- 85 minutes
- Mike Benner , Jared Logan , Charles A. Pieper
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