The Intruder examines, in the sort of lurid, semi-deranged way you’d expect from a horror movie, something that’s actually rather subtle. How a house becomes a home. How any prospective buyer, looking around someone else’s home with a view to purchasing it, is an intruder. And how the seller, once the deal is complete, still has some residual emotional hold over the property. It might be the new buyer’s house – the legal documents say so – but in some sense it’s still the old owner’s home, especially if they lived there for decades.
Nice young marrieds Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) have done well in their careers and fancy moving out to a big place in Napa, where they are going to have lots of kids and put down roots in the sort of family home that passes down the generations.
They find a lovely one, called Foxglove, and meet the current owner, Charlie (Dennis Quaid), at the wrong end of a rifle – he’s been out in the woods bordering the back of the property shooting deer, which need culling, Charlie explains. As if we hadn’t already guessed which way this was heading from that introduction, Charlie is also leering like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. He makes Scott and Annie uneasy. But it doesn’t matter because it’s the house they’re interested in and Charlie will soon be off to live with his daughter in Florida, he says.
Old school manners to one side, Charlie is from the off an obvious bad guy but then Scott and Annie are fairly young, modern and smug and could probably do with a reminder that life isn’t all roses – Charlie’s wife died of cancer two years before and the house clearly means a lot to him. He shows them around as if expecting them to keep it as it is – a shrine.
Scott and Annie move in. All is well. Then, one day, Annie looks out the window and sees Charlie on the sit-upon mower doing the lawn. Their lawn.
And so it starts. Charlie becomes a presence in their lives who won’t shift, even though he’s meant to be gone. And being nice people, Scott and Annie are reluctant to have it out with the grieving widower. For now. And so it continues.
The transition from house to home, from Scott and Annie being the intruders in Charlie’s home to Charlie being the intruder in theirs dovetails neatly with the transition of Quaid from creepy but avuncular and “hot for an old guy” (scriptwriter nod to Quaid’s efforts to stay buff) to something on the pathological spectrum.
Hitchcock once famously described the essence of suspense. A bomb under a table. The audience knows it’s there, the people having an innocent conversation at the table do not. Suspense. Quaid is that bomb. We know it, Annie and Scott don’t. It’s tense, properly tense, this early section. But when are Scott and Annie going to figure it all out? Or put yet another way, when can we get to the final leg of the film, when all pretence is out the window, the bit with the screaming and running around?
Producer/director Deon Taylor has decided to handle all this in strict genre terms. There are no surprises, no games being played. At the beginning he introduces us to the good guys and the bad guy economically and at the end he does indeed give us screaming and running around. In between are the tricky bits, the transitions in Scott and Annie’s understanding of what Charlie is all about, which Taylor also handles well, while Geoff Zanelli – who’s read the same memo – lays on the shimmering strings and big bass booms like a man who believes that only too much is enough.
There’s a guns/pro-guns sub-theme in The Intruder too, for anyone who is writing a thesis on how often “liberal” Hollywood rolls out the “what happens when you push a liberal?” scenario – no shocks here either – and a neat payoff finale that puts an elegant finish to a meat-and-potatoes 100 minutes.
Nicely done. No shocks. Not even the shocks.
The Intruder – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2021