The Boy Next Door (2015, Rob Cohen) Fade in on a perfectly coiffed, improbably wealthy protagonist. They are responsible, morally righteous, a beacon of middle-class Americana. But they have a secret, kinky urge making their down-belows tingle, particularly when forbidden fruit is dropped right in front of them, leading them into a scandalous sexual encounter that they instantly regret come morning. “It was a mistake”, they plead, “a one-time thing!” Everything ought to be fine, yes? Not so fast. The protagonist’s naughty one night stand rapidly becomes their worst nightmare, invading their personal life, initiating elaborate dramatic set pieces, terrorising their friends, relations and/or pets, all in the hopes of somehow proving their undying love.
More than any other, the ‘erotic psycho-thriller’ genre is one built on a very specific collection of tropes and clichés, characteristics lathered, rinsed and repeated through countless home invasion films of the late 80s/early 90s and the TV movies that make up the lengthy oeuvre of any Tori Spelling-type, glimpsed in regular rotation on the most mechanical of storytelling platforms: the soap opera. Unlike seemingly any other grab-bag of clichés so firmly attached to a certain genre, it’s also less of a problem. A symbol of picture-perfect, good-natured American values invaded by a sinister, often sexual, outside force, as explored in everything from Poison Ivy to Unlawful Entry to Obsessed, is a well-worn dramatic device, the best being those that seem to subvert audience expectations and use their provocative central ideas to comment and critique on the culture at large. As in the genre’s magnum opus Fatal Attraction, for example, in which Glenn Close’s spurned lawyer becomes just as much a victim of Michael Douglas’ rampant, patriarchal misogyny as she is a violent tormentor.
But even those with less lofty aspirations have a certain kitsch appeal, the type of gleeful predictability that spawns popcorn-throwing during a hate-watch marathon. The Boy Next Door casts Jennifer Lopez as a randy single mother who finds herself craving Ryan Guzman’s titular hunk, a sensitive, compassionate sex fantasy from the Drake Ramoray school of unconvincing smarts. The two bone, and faster than you can say, “I won’t be ignored, [m’am]”, guy loses his damn mind. Turns out the boy next door is completely crackers and cheese, enrolling himself in Lopez’s English class, insinuating into her teenage son’s life, and launching a full-scale blackmail-slash-murder scheme designed to win her back.
That The Boy Next Door grinds from one psycho thriller cliché to another should come as no real shock, ticking off as it does every generic twist and turn from the Hand That Rocks the Cradle playbook. But it also consistently falls enough on the right side of camp to become oddly winning. Very beautiful people doing very stupid things, dialogue ripe for parody, and a distractingly gnarly amount of violence, considering these types of movie are so often hacked to ribbons for a PG-13 certificate. It all only furthers the belief that thrillers of this type are almost impervious to serious criticism, their own aggressive banality very much key to their continued success. On a sliding scale of Jennifer Lopez vehicles, the highs being Out of Sight and the lows being something like Gigli, it’s at least a solid Anaconda.