“You have no idea who I am.”
Intruders, the directorial debut from Adam Schindler, plays expertly with notions of expectation and assumption, both those made by the film’s small cast about one another and those the audience is perhaps predisposed to making based on years of generic precursors. In the process it packages into 90 minutes something of a hidden gem for UK viewers, as the film has landed on our shores in the wastelands of the straight-to-DVD market.
It deserves better.
This home invasion thriller stars Beth Riesgraf as “odd bird” Anna; a woman in her thirties living in a cluttered detached house, taking care of her sick brother Conrad (Timothy T. McKinney). Routine is the watchword of those looking after terminally ill loved ones, and one of Anna’s few visitors is meals-on-wheels delivery man Dan (Rory Culkin). Schindler economically sets-up the tentative potential for a halfway cute romance between these two further down the line (the first of several misdirections deftly woven into the script).
When Conrad passes, Anna makes an impromptu overture to Dan; offering him a satchel of money, claiming she has more than she knows what to do with. He graciously declines. When it comes to the day of the funeral, Anna can’t bring herself to attend. Staying at home proves fateful, as a trio of men break in under the assumption that the house is empty, looking for the loot.
So far it’s about what you’d expect, especially as from the outset our titular intruders fit an established mold (the sensible one, the inexperienced one and the total psycho – hello Panic Room). But when Anna proves incapable of leaving the house due to severe agoraphobia, Intruders begins straying from the home invasion movie’s well-beaten path, willfully upending the rules in a manner that makes even You’re Next seem moderately conventional.
That’s about as far as I’m prepared to take you through the machinations of a sinuous plot that drip-feeds the viewer with information when it’s not too busy faking to the left when we’re expecting a right. This is all presented with chilly sincerity on Schindler’s part. The wry smirk of the post-modern horror movie is nowhere to be seen here. Instead, Intruders is more satisfied playing it straight; confident in its own smarts to not brag about them.
Performances are all of a pretty high standard as Schindler’s game plays out. Riesgraf’s Anna is a sensitive and complex creation. Initially there are fears that the story will relegate her to just another struggling, beleaguered victim as seen in so many rote movies, yet the more we learn the more convoluted that assumption becomes, until it doesn’t fit at all.
On the other side of the board, Schindler’s triptych of would-be thieves keep to their respective roles, but the game changes around them, challenging the viewer to question whose side they’re really on. Jack Kesy’s bearded maniac J.P. might seem like the film’s out-and-out bad apple (he’s certainly the least likable or relatable character here), but screenwriters T.J Cimfel and David White will come to test the assumption that he’s the worst of the bunch by the time the end credits roll. Similarly, Martin Starr’s Perry seems like the sensible one, but as events escalate Intruders goes to show that even the level-headed can be easily tested.
The spoilers lurking in the film’s second half may divide audiences expecting a far more conventional set of circumstances to unfurl. Some may label the film far-fetched as keys turn and locked doors reveal secrets, but there’s still a cold logic to what’s being presented. Everything is seeded. Nothing here is totally out of left field. All the more credit due then for how often the viewer feels as though the rug is being pulled from under them.
The uncredited star of the film is the house itself; a busy, lived-in old place filled with staircases, crawl-spaces and tight corners. It’s used to maximum effect to control the geography of both the film’s action and suspense scenes. As soon as you realise the filmmakers aren’t sticking to the rules, the latter skyrockets, delivering in spades. Put simply, by breaking from convention, Intruders becomes a riveting little ride, suitably contained within a wisely restrictive framework.
Intruders, like Ex Machina for instance, is written to scale. First time feature director? Check Small cast? Check. One location? Check. There are smarts in building your debut project within a set of sensible parameters. In this case, these restrictions have resulted in a prickly little powerhouse, one that seems confined to genre borders, only to cross them without blinking. Is it built for the ages? Probably not. But as tall tales go, this is a pretty decent one worth your investigation, and Adam Schindler is a name worth remembering to check back on down the road.
All in all, far better than the straight-to-DVD release might lead you to believe.