When author Zack Reynolds and his loving family move from the big city to the quaint Midwest for his new gig as pastor of the local megachurch, they feel as if things are falling into place. What could go wrong? Zack’s job is amazing, he and his wife are deeply in love, they have a well-behaved child, and everybody in town goes to their church — except one. This mysterious, lonely neighbor immediately becomes Pastor Zack’s first “project.” He and his wife, Amber, set about coaxing the fellow into a friendship with the hopes of introducing him to Christ, and involving him in the church. What the Reynolds’ were not expecting are the dramatic and dangerous consequences that come from being a good ‘neighbor’.
Thy Neighbor is a Christian suspense film with a lot to unpack. We begin with Pastor Zack Reynolds knee deep in a sermon series about loving one’s neighbors and deciding to launch an effort to befriend his odd neighbor and get him in church. His dutiful and friendly wife, Amber, is on board and easily makes a connection with the man. Things quickly become uncomfortable and downright creepy when this neighbor develops an unhealthy attachment to Amber, putting the entire family in jeopardy. (Think Lakeview Terrace or Disturbia, but with a faith message).
Firstly, I want to commend the filmmakers for producing a quality suspense film with a faith message. That is not an easy feat by any means. The film delivers on its promise of suspense in spades. The actor who took on the rather unappealing role of the deranged neighbor, Dave Payton, did a chillingly fantastic job of making every single moment of his performance highly uncomfortable and disconcerting. From the very beginning the audience is drawn in by this seemingly harmless-but-something-is-definitely-off character, leaving you on edge and well, in suspense. If I were in charge of award committees, Mr. Payton would certainly be taking home some trophies.
This film touches on so many important issues, I could easily write an essay about its merits and deficiencies, but let’s just focus on the main points. Thy Neighbor is a jarring look at what it means to love one’s neighbor. The film touches on infidelity, discord, trust, discipleship, child abuse, pride and a slew of other heavy subjects while keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Thy Neighbor is not for the faint of heart; the film includes explicit violence and frightening situations and is certainly not suitable for children. The question is, does the film redeem itself by providing a solid Christian message to counteract all of the evil it portrays?
At first, Zack and Amber seem to have an idyllic and healthy marriage, but as this dark stranger begins sowing seeds of discord between them, we see a much different picture. Amber, attention starved and bored, plays with the fire of jealously and trust within her marriage. She ignores her husband’s repeated concerns that something is wrong, using her faith as an excuse to not only manipulate her husband, but also egg on the behaviors of a clearly unstable individual. At first, the audience may think she is just being a good Christian, taking up a lost cause. But as the film goes on, we see the chinks in her armor. Her husband, the pastor, is no better; he sees this neighbor as a project, a mountain to climb, another spiritual conquest to add to his biography, rather than an individual. We see his pride, anger, insecurities and character exposed as this divisive antagonist moves the pair around like pieces on a chess board. While the couple may have had good intentions, neither of them actually do much loving for this neighbor, while they claim to be loving him. Of course, humans are not perfect, and Thy Neighbor is a poignant reminder of that fact.
Our resident deviant, who is not named until the end of the film, has a story of his own. One that none of the Christian characters in the film seem to be interested in until it is too late. The antagonist is a tragic and terrifying figure that casts a mirror on the other characters, much like the lawyer in Luke chapter 10, asking, “who is my neighbor?” It is easy to write him off as a psycho, but the very message of the film is that anyone can be redeemed. This film shows we may find ourselves in situations, doing things we never thought we’d be involved in — wondering if God can forgive us, or if we are too far gone. It is entirely possible for us as believers to lose ourselves while we are seeking the lost. Thy Neighbor leaves one wondering who the real enemy is here — and where the “love” is. This works in the film’s favor, by causing viewers to self-reflect and take a deep look at what it means to love and care for others.
Some things I did not appreciate about Thy Neighbor included the portrayal of the pastor’s wife, Amber, as a naive almost vixen-like character who displayed unrealistic reactions to the obvious discomfort of being around a threat to her safety (no woman I know would behave that way in her shoes). Secondary to that would be the loose ends that are never tied up (including suspected infidelity that is mishandled by church staff) and the “not calling the police and handling things themselves” trope throughout the film. My main bone to pick with Thy Neighbor, however, is the unnecessary, overt violence and lack of a redemptive story arc.
offers a suspenseful and dramatic look at the motives of the human heart, but doesn’t fully deliver on its promise of redemption. Despite the blatant violence and heart-pounding thrills, the film does contain a clear faith message, poignant subject matter and quality acting and direction. Thy Neighbor
is certainly not appropriate for young audiences, but has been awarded our Dove Seal of Approval for Ages 18+. As always, please use your best judgment when deciding what media to consume, as there are some scenes in Thy Neighbor
which may be triggering or upsetting for some viewers.
The Dove Take
Thy Neighbor offers a suspenseful and dramatic look at the motives of the human heart, but doesn’t fully deliver on its promise of redemption.