Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Evil Next Door, previously titled The Other Side, is a foreign surprise that feels specifically dialed in on the wavelength of modern American horror. I never thought I would say one of the scariest movies I watched in 2021 would hail from Sweden! As soon as the opening credits said it was based on a true story (and set in the great year of 2014), I was immediately put on edge. Some of the best genre films are rooted in truth, with the most popular modern ones being The Conjuring Universe. I am not sure how closely this stuck to the real story, but The Evil Next Door is properly creepy. The second Lucas walks into an upstairs room, hears a Grudge-like crunching noise, and says “a child lives in this room,” I had a feeling that the film would be significantly better than I expected. The direction from duo Tord Danielsson and Oskar Mellander is stylish and intense.

Shirin (Dilan Gwyn) moves into a too-good-to-be-true unoccupied duplex with her beau Fredrik (Linus Wahlgren) and his son Lucas. Fredrik’s new job will cause him to work late, leaving Shirin and Lucas alone constantly. This seems like a good way for the two of them to connect, as Lucas is still grieving his mother. Things take a turn for the weird when Shirin finds Lucas talking to the walls. The weird events keep stacking, all the while Fredrick insists “we all need time to adjust.” It is not long before Lucas starts telling his classmates about his “new friend.” Shirin races to uncover the truth about their new home, as the unexplainable phenomena continues spiraling out of control. 

Movies where a kid has an imaginary friend that is more sinister than they appear (think: Toby from Paranormal Activity 3, or Captain Howdy in The Exorcist) are a dime a dozen. The Evil Next Door is well aware of this trope and just goes running with it on the strength of its imagery and scares alone. A ball comes zooming out of the bushes towards Lucas and skids to a stop, thrown by no one. A crawl through the basements and dimly-lit attic space is especially horrifying. A gnarly design for the lead baddie specializes in bone-crunching terror we have seen before in such films as Mama, The Ring, and even The Exorcist

Each scare is perfectly orchestrated through use of deep shadows and crackling tension. There is also an aspect to the relationship with Lucas brimming with heart and defined by an adorable bedtime song that becomes a meaningful emotional tether for the family. The Evil Next Door brings throwback American terror to Swedish cinema and stands tall as one of the scariest films of 2021.

The Evil Next Door spider-crawls to theaters and on demand on June 25th.

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