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DVD Review: ‘The Assassin Next Door’

★★★☆☆

In Danny Lerner’s The Assassin Next Door (2009), Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace [2008], Max Payne [2008]) play Galia, a young woman who finds herself in a severe set of circumstances. Having left her husband and daughter in her native Ukraine, she travels to Tel Aviv, Israel. Whilst there she winds up in a dire situation, becoming embroiled with the local sex-traffic mafia and used against her will as an assassin for their seedy deeds.

Living in a run down Tel Aviv flat she befriends her neighbor, Elinor (Ninet Tayeb) – a grocery store cashier who submits herself to brutal beatings by her husband. As Galia disobeys her latest contract and Elinor discovers that she is pregnant, the two women become increasingly desperate to escape. As the film draws to a close the protagonists decide to take action against their oppressors, resulting in a tense and thrilling finale.

Although this may be a short opening synopsis, it nevertheless provides a suitable canvas to begin analysing Lerner’s thriller, The Assassin Next Door. Suitable for a number of reasons, but most prominently, for the number of questions it poses, such as why does Galia leave her family in Ukraine? and, how does she become entangled in the prostitution business? Each question you would expect to be resolved within the film’s diegesis, situations which would gain a more balanced understanding on the viewer’s part with further plot progression and in-depth narrative exposition. It is in saying this then, that I have perhaps highlighted just one of the many problems that litter Lerner’s text; logistically speaking and in a somewhat frustrating manner, the film brings about no narrative resolution, leaving the spectator with a number of (arguably) crucial, yet unanswered questions.

Indeed, logistics are perhaps the most indicative concept surrounding the faults in Lerner’s film, a picture which seems unsure of itself as much as it’s characters are. Arguably, what plays out ostensibly as an action-thriller could also be read as a love story between two abused women; as Galia and Elinor become increasingly subordinated and systematically harassed by their abusers their relationship gradually flourishes. But even the soupçon of lesbianism that laces the text seems unjustified and lacking coherence, and is only really there to instigate a perverse pleasure within the audience.

Elsewhere, the style and tone of the film is comparable to an amalgamation of a Gaspar Noé and Tony Scott (if that is at all possible?); for example, take the choreographed action set-pieces (not without the typical cheesy soundtrack) and mix them with the raw, visceral and physical brutality of the other sequences (gasping breaths, dislocating bones and sinewy sound of jaws cracking). Scott’s energy with Noé’s dystopian slant. Yes, this seems like a contradiction in terms and it plays out like one as well – Lerner having taken a traditionally escapist genre (the action film) and attempted to blend it with a depressingly bleak world-view.

Although the above list has perhaps already tainted your preconceptions of this film, there are however some residing features that makes The Assassin Next Door a surprisingly bearable DTV feature. Firstly, despite the fact that the opening looks like it was filmed on a mobile phone, the action sequences from here on are reasonably well choreographed, and there are fleeting moments of potent visual prowess within the film’s cinematography.

Besides this, the interplay between the two female leads (subsiding the unnecessary lesbian subtext) is interesting and both actresses deliver commendable performances creating a palpable empathy for their characters. And finally, there is an attention to realism that constructs the film’s more brutal and violent scenes as genuinely shocking and suitably unnerving.

For such a small budget, The Assassin Next Door is an admirable piece, as is director Danny Lerner for what he has set out to try and do; unfortunately, he has ultimately failed in his execution. 

Stephen Leach