Next Door is a shining example of a basic premise executed well. The film is laid out neatly in the first 15 minutes: all the information we need is offered in smooth, swift exposition and is structurally and skillfully presented. Our protagonist, Chan-woo (Oh Dong-min), has been trying to become a police officer for years and is desperately hoping that his most recent exam and application will be the one to finally succeed. After endless studying, a plan to blow off some steam with friends turns into an all-out bender, leaving Chan-woo waking up on the day his prized application is due at 6pm with a raging hangover, no memory of the night before, and an immobile body on the floor by his bed — face down, jacket hood up, and a pool of blood beneath them.
Using skills from his law enforcement studies (often ineptly, clumsily, and comedically), Chan-woo tries his best to piece together what has happened, unsure whether he was a bystander or perpetrator in the mysterious crime scene on his bedroom floor. He is a charming protagonist (a necessity in a film with such a minimalist cast): a little silly, excessively earnest, and imperfect, even at his life’s passion. One roots for him while remaining uncertain if he’s going to get out of this specific jam.
No grand antagonist stands before him save for the ticking clock — in multiple senses. Chan-woo is waiting to be caught, his concern increasing with each obstacle along the way (a nosy landlady, the panicked realization that he is in the wrong room, his pounding head and mysteriously bruised face). But, because he has to send in his application that evening, Chan-woo is also working to a deadline, a countdown situation that is punctuated by the occasional onscreen flash of the time.
Chan-woo gains insight from the night before via hazy snippets that occasionally appear to him in a drunken flashback, a phone call from a friend frustrated with him for starting a fight, or through his active attempts to walk through potential events of the night before within the room. These recreations are his best guess of the person he assumes he might become when he’s drunk.
While not necessarily a whodunit — most of the mystery unfolds pretty clearly in front of us — Next Door still offers some exciting twists and turns and a well-structured story. With each act, a new, game-changing factor is brought into play that continually elevates the story.
Occasionally, Next Door’s pendulum swings between the silly and the serious too severely so that one isn’t sure when a joking, overwrought reaction is going to appear in an otherwise serious layout. But even then, this occasional flubbed tonal shift isn’t enough to ruin or even really distract from the film. Next Door isn’t necessarily life-changing, but it’s fun and compelling and worth the watch. A tight script, a small cast, and only a few simple sets hum along at a lovely little pace.