IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 102 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Scott and Annie Howard want to move and one of places on their list is a certain property in Napa Valley. The owner, Charlie Peck, who will be soon be moving to Florida to live with his daughter, convinces them to buy it. Annie feels sorry for Charlie as his wife died of cancer two years earlier, and he will be soon be moving to Florida to live with his daughter. But when one of their friends, Mike, comes round and is seen by Charlie urinating outside and dropping a cigarette on the ground, he later finds cigarette burns inside his prized car. Then Charlie begins to show up unannounced, especially when Scott isn’t there….
If you’re going to make a film that rehashes a premise which has already been done to death, then you really need to find a fresh approach or spin on the idea, or at least handle the material very well to show that there’s still some life in it. Precursors to The Intruder [a title that’s old hat in itself] include Unlawful Entry, Pacific Heights and Cold Creek Manor which also starred Dennis Quaid, while screenwriter David Loughery has already partly told this story in Obsessed, Penthouse North and Lakeview Terrace, and director Deon Taylor also made the rather similar Traffik. Unfortunately The Intruder fails to add anything new and generally feels like just a tired rehash of what’s come before, with Loughery and Taylor’s previous experience at this kind of story certainly not meaning that they’ve truly got it right. This is not a terrible picture, even if it’s often stupid, with a heroine who’s almost as dumb as the one in Brightburn. There are a few well handled moments and I could not enjoy it on some level because I have a particular fondness for this subgenre, finding the very human threat in these films quite frightening because it could so easily happen and I know people who’ve experienced a similar situation. But there’s no doubt that this is a very run of the mill effort and I’m surprised that it has received a cinema release, though apparently it’s done rather well in the US of A. I guess that’s a cause for celebration in these comic book movie-dominating times – or is it?
So our main couple are house hunting and there’s a bit of tension already between them when Scott is very chatty with a woman serving him ice cream. He didn’t act or say anything out of line to my ears, but there’s obviously some kind of history here involving Scott and other women which has made Annie very jealous and insecure. One thing this film does do quite well is suggest past events without going into detail or even explicitly stating them. This is something they used to do a lot in movies but it’s done less often these days because it’s somehow felt that audiences require everything to be explained to them. As their car approaches their new potential house, Charlie suddenly jumps out of the woods with a rifle and shoots a deer right in front of his potential buyers and doesn’t just shoot the deer – he then runs up on its wounded body and brutally plugs it in the head at point blank range [not shown animal lovers, don’t worry!]. Now I don’t know about you, but I would immediately surmise that there was something amiss with this guy, and would immediately turn the car round and drive away, or insist that my wife or partner do the same if they were driving. At the very least, I’d be a bit concerned. But the Russells don’t seem to be that bothered and Annie seems to want this house so badly After a bit of persuasion, they buy the house anyway. By the way, Charlie is fervently anti-gun because of a past tragedy, and this is subsequently maintained throughout most of the running time, but – well, I tend to avoid getting ahead of myself or giving too much away these days – but come on, you just know that he’s eventually going to have to reconsider his stance on firearms. This could have made for some good dramatic moments, but is instead thrown away, and is a good example of the film’s childish, lazy handling of many of the issues it raises.
Anyway, Scott’s friend Mike find cigarette burns inside his prized car after he peed on the roses and threw a cigarette on the ground, then Scott and Annie return home one day to find Charlie mowing the lawn. Scott is understandably annoyed, though of course he won’t call the police even though he thinks Charlie could not just be lurking in the woods right by the house but could even be inside the house! And he thinks that he’s got designs on his wife! But Annie – she bleeding well invites him round for Thanksgiving dinner! And is just as friendly when he shows up unannounced with gifts! It’s kind of ironic that today’s Hollywood likes to show off how progressive it is and have women in more and stronger roles, yet some of their female characters are still complete idiots. I’m divided as to whether the quick shots of Charlie by or in the house work. They’re rather unsettling despite the overdone musical stings which tend to come on a second or two after the scare, so do work in terms of getting the viewer nicely worked up. However, they tell us that Charlie is definitely a dangerous nutter early on, and some ambiguity in the first half may have been preferable. There’s a scene where Scott confronts Charlie in a bar and tells him to keep away. Because we already know to be afraid of Charlie, we don’t feel for him, but I couldn’t help but remember how interestingly The Gift [easily the best in this subgenre in recent years] handled scenes like this, and how it dared to make its supposed hero more sympathetic than its villain, thereby putting a bit of a twist on things and even challenging the viewer. In The Intruder, we know that we’re meant to be afraid of Charlie right from the offset, so we’re just sitting around waiting for him to do some bad stuff, only that because this is a ‘PG-13′ movie in America [’15’ in the UK and I’m not sure why – there’s some sexual threat but it’s very tame], you know that you’re not going to see him do anything bad properly [one un-explicit murder is all you get], and Taylor isn’t good enough a director to make up for this.
Annie is at home, Scott is at work, Charlie is usually lurking around – you’ll be able to predict most of the way things go, and even tick off the expected scenes as they go by, such as when Scott gets a colleague to find stuff out about Charlie. There’s an effective night time scene when our couple, both of whom have been drinking [in fact the Russells seem to be constantly knocking it back, they get through more vino than I do], hear a noise and wonder if Charlie is in the house. But the climax, if a little more intense than I expected, is severely weakened by choosing to shoot much of it with close-ups and a very jittery camera which fails to conceal some very poor, even amateurish, staging. I suppose this doesn’t matter much if you don’t take the film seriously, and indeed there are signs that maybe we’re not meant to, like a bit where Charlie is talking and the menacing soundtrack music drowns out the sound of his voice for a bit, and another one when he pulls faces while looking at himself in a mirror. Quaid, in what I think is his first villainous part, seems to be having fun here, but no matter how much shadow cinematographer Daniel Pearl has fall across his visage, Quaid just doesn’t have the face for convincing nastiness, and when he eventually lets rip he seems to be channeling Jack Nicholson in The Shining [a film which is referenced several times], but doesn’t possess Nicholson’s peculiar knack for being both funny and frightening at the same time. Michael Ealy and Meagan Good are both good as the Howards though, though it’s sometimes painful to see them struggling with the poor writing of their characters.
I’m not the kind of person who looks for these things, but it wasn’t long before I began to notice a rather obvious social/political element. I shouldn’t have been surprised – two of Taylor’s other recent films – Supremacy and Traffik – also portray one colour in danger from another colour – and guess who the baddies are? The Intruder does the same thing, which in itself isn’t a problem if taken on its own, but here we even have the bad guy not just be full of toxic masculinity but often wear a very familiar looking red cap! I’m sure that the connection I’m making was intended. While we should by now be used to Hollywood’s political stance, and its posturing and preaching, I can’t be the only one wishing that they would concentrate more on – you know – entertainment, while Taylor’s agenda-filled exploitation of multicultural tensions feels downright irresponsible now that he’s done it three times. Without reading any in detail, I gather that reviews of The Intruder are generally negative, yet I’ll bet that very few, if any, critics have been brave enough to comment on this particular aspect even if it seems blatantly clear to me. What’s even sadder is that if this film had featured a black guy tormenting white folks, the Twitterati would have cried their favourite word –“racist” – and a storm would have probably ensured. It’s all so very one-sided. In any case, this does add an undoubtedly interesting aspect to The Intruder, a film which just isn’t that interesting otherwise.
The large amount of pop music thrown into the first act seems out of place in this particular film, and at times it appears that Taylor is relying on Geoff Zanelli’s music score to do the job that he should be doing. The Intruder actually feels very much like it’s come from the early ’90s, a time when loads of similar efforts were coming out and more often than not were going straight to video or sometimes cable in the US. The only real difference is that it lacks hardly anything in the way of exploitative elements i.e. nudity, blood – though a somewhat trashy aesthetic is still just about maintained in spite of that. The latter is just about enough for me to partly recommend The Intruder to fans of this kind of thing, even though they will have undoubtedly seen it all before many times and better.