“Violence and sex are integral to our human makeup,” says Greame Whifler, writer/director behind the Calgary Underground Film Festival darling, Neighborhood Watch. “They’re so imprinted that they’re almost hard to see. But if it’s done subtly, it’s very engaging, very disturbing and very compelling.”
Whifler’s film tells the story of Bob and Wendi Petersen, a young couple who move to the picturesque Wormwood Drive, a suburb with a plastic sheen. Adrien Trumbull, a seemingly friendly neighbor with a couple gruesome secrets, greets the Petersens and insinuates himself into their lives. At first, they’re happy for the friendship in a strange new place, but then Trumbull tries to kill them, and, well, cocktail parties just start ending awkwardly when he shows up, to say the least.
“My stuff has been very disturbing, and censors have always come nipping at my heels,” says Whifler. “What really bothers people is the suggestions I’m putting in their minds. Neighborhood Watch is actually pretty conservative. There’s hardly any blood. The sex is completely tame. But when you take the little pieces and start adding them up into the back of your brain, there’s something very disturbing going on.”
Despite his convictions as to the film’s tameness, Neighborhood Watch has a long history of making its audience physically ill. When it premiered at the New York Horror Festival, one man passed out in the isle as he tried to flee the film’s last terrifying moments. Another person at that screening broke out in hives later on in the evening. Though it may have been unrelated, another man had a seizure at the FantAsia Festival in Montreal. But it was all “in a good way,” Whifler insists.
“[The guy who had a seizure] actually emailed me about six months later asking if he could get a DVD, because he really wanted to see the end of it,” says Whifler. “It doesn’t really fit any moulds. It’s not a horror movie, and it’s not like anything [audiences have] seen before. The world I put these characters into is a world devoid of hope or light–but it’s also kind of humorous.”
It’s this balancing act, straddling the fluffy and the disturbing, that drives Neighborhood Watch. Like the ingrained human predilection toward sex and violence, Whifler points out that the appeal of his film too, evokes something animal in its audience.
“People are interested in morbid stuff in general,” he says. “They slow down for traffic accidents. They’re looking for the body, and the worse shape the better. But then they’ll say, ‘Oh God I wish I didn’t see that.’ People are very interested in others’ suffering, and mainly I think it’s because they project themselves into that.”