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Destroy All Neighbors

A few names stand out during the opening credits for “Destroy All Neighbors,” a neurotic horror-comedy about annoying neighbors and a self-described “serial manslaughterer.” There’s Rich Zim, who animated the trippy opening credits sequence, which sends viewers barreling down a long, ever-mutating tunnel of ear wax, eyeballs, microchips, trees, etc. Then there’s special make-up effects supervisor Gabriel Bartalos, whose credits include collaborations with cult-certified artists ranging from Matthew Barney to Frank Henenlotter. There are also the headlining stars, Jonah Ray Rodrigues (co-host of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) and Alex Winter (co-director of “Freaked”), who also co-produced “Destroy All Neighbors.” You might also notice casting director Charlene Lee, whose earlier credits include “Beef” and “Fargo,” as well as a handful of noteworthy series that showcase their comedic stars, like “Review” and “Sherman’s Showcase.”

Lee and her team deserve recognition for helping assemble “Destroy All Neighbors,” a comedy that’s less about the plot—or surreal humor, practical effects, or even individual performers—than its ensemble’s sketch comedy camaraderie. You may not remember this movie beyond isolated quips and gestures, but those moments will stick in your mind given how much fun the on-camera performers seem to be having in each other’s company.

There’s still a plot, albeit a familiar psychodrama about a creatively blocked artiste who accidentally goes on a spree. Will (Ray) can’t seem to wrap up his long (three years) gestating progressive prog rock (or “prog squared”) album. His girlfriend Emily (Kiran Deol) supports him anyway. Then a noisy stranger moves into the apartment next door after their old neighbor Alec (Pete Ploszek) finally sells his script. That new neighbor blasts EDM club music at odd hours of the night and looks like a cross between a bridge troll and a roadie thanks to his Popeye forearms, prominent tattoos, and newsboy cap. This is Vlad (Winter), a chummy, heavily accented Eastern-European(?) who likes saying “bro” a lot and also enjoys pushing Will’s buttons.

Will’s story only really begins after he unintentionally murders Vlad. Before that happens, Will gets into some light shenanigans as a sound mixer for Scotty (Thomas Lennon), a spineless recording studio guy who does anything to please Caleb Bang Jansen (Ryan Kattner), a tantrum-throwing musician who does a lot of drugs. Will also occasionally bumps into Auggie (Christian Calloway), a bedraggled-looking homeless guy who won’t stop bugging Will for a free croissant. Seriously, the plot’s not the priority here.

What matters more depends on your taste in hangout comedies, especially if you already like the Masada-high concepts behind certain jokes, like the running gag where Scotty tells us what he thinks rock ‘n roll is all about (he’s always wrong, of course). Or whenever “Swig” Anderson (Jon Daly), former prog-rocker turned online music guru, gives free advice to listeners, like Will, while sharing way too much personal information, including asides about alimony, his ex-partners, and oh yeah, getting rid of human remains. These jokes have amusing flourishes throughout but are usually not strong enough to carry whole scenes. That’s kind of a problem in a plot-light movie, which careens from scene to scene of a passive Will figuring out how chaotic his life can get after he (tentatively) decides to stand up for himself.

In his best scenes, Ray squirms in the clammy grip of various conflicting anxieties, as if he were turning over some exotic food in his mouth before deciding whether he likes the taste. He fits right into this very West Coast comedy, replete with eyeroll-inducing and sometimes very funny jokes about washed-up and/or vain artists, plagiarized movie scripts, and all day jam sessions. He also excels at making room for his co-stars, bouncing ideas off them with consummate generosity.

Ray’s collaborative spirit isn’t surprising given his experience as the co-host of “The Nerdist Podcast,” which in turn led to his close collaboration with “Mystery Science Theater 3000” creator Joel Hodgson and his robot puppet friends. It’s still low-key fun to see Ray bicker with Deol, talk back to Daly, and negotiate with a comedian that’s not mentioned in the opening credits, but is attached to the project on the Internet Movie Database. If that last part makes sense to you, then you might be the right audience for “Destroy All Neighbors.”

But you should really see “Destroy All Neighbors” because Ray’s a great straight man. He plays to his co-stars in ways that aren’t fully utilized in a comedy about a squirrely introvert who either flinches or shrinks away whenever he’s approached by, uh, most people. Ray and his co-stars’ easy chemistry makes you want to hang out with Will, if only to see where the plot twist takes him. “Destroy All Neighbors” wouldn’t really work without that essential playfulness; the fact that it works at all suggests that Ms. Lee and her team are the movie’s real MVPs.

On Shudder now.

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

Destroy All Neighbors movie poster

Destroy All Neighbors (2024)

Cast

Jonah Ray Rodrigues as William Brown

Alex Winter as Vlad

Kiran Deol as Emily

Jon Daly

Christian Calloway as Auggie

Randee Heller as Eleanor Prescott

DeMorge Brown as Phillip / Pig Man

Thomas Lennon as Scotty

Chase Kim as Firefighter

Madara Jayasena as Officer Ponds

Franco Vega as Officer McCormick

Director

Writer

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