Home invasion thrillers have given us plenty of maniacal villains hellbent on terrorizing helpless residents of cavernous houses. Whether they’re driven by dementia or greed (or both), these villains pillage, plunder, and leave the scene a bloodbath.
Rarely are they provoked by a former homeowner’s mundane desire to still occupy the residence, as it is for Dennis Quaid’s vein-popping Charlie Peck in director Deon Taylor’s “The Intruder.”
In director Jung Huh’s 2013 film, “Hide and Seek,” the unhinged former renter (Mi-seon Jeon) is at least driven to madness due to a visceral combination of grief and poverty. But Charlie is nothing more than a man who’s mad that he lost his money after a few bad business deals and had to give up his gigantic Napa Valley home (the one where he killed his wife, mind you) to a successful young married couple: Annie (Meagan Good, “Shazam!”) and Scott Russell (Michael Ealy, “Think Like a Man”). Charlie gets a huge windfall after they buy his home, which should get him out of debt. But instead of leaving, he lingers on their new property — unbeknownst to Annie and Scott — right beneath them in their basement.
The truth about Charlie’s wife, of course, comes later in the film when things are hitting the fan, but there’s something creepy about him right from the beginning. Despite telling the new homeowners that his daughter has a bedroom waiting for him in Florida, Charlie continues to “drop by” for days — or is it weeks? Time is a bit fuzzy in the film.
Even more curious is the ungrounded friendship between Charlie and Annie. Annie feels bad for him and his attachment to his longtime home. Meanwhile, Scott finds Charlie’s omnipresence creepy (it very much is) and shoos him away so he can spend some alone time with his wife and start a family.
The other part that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the half-baked screenplay by David Loughery (“Lakeview Terrace,” “Obsessed”)? Annie and Scott seem so in love and can’t keep their hands off each other, yet it’s hinted that Scott had an affair and, ever since, Annie hasn’t fully trusted him. If Annie was so insecure about their relationship (so much so that she’s set off when Charlie sends her a text instead of calling her), then why would she even consider buying a home and having a baby with him? Sure, it happens, but that history isn’t explained well in the movie at all. And because we don’t know Annie and Scott outside of this frightening moment in their relationship, as Charlie baits and terrorizes them, this element of their relationship just dangles.
Things are made worse by the fact that Charlie convinces himself in his twisted mind that Annie could possibly replace his deceased wife because her relationship with Scott is on the rocks after the whole text debacle and Annie shows him more attention than Scott does. It’s delusional. Part of Charlie’s creepiness could be attributed to grief over his wife, if it wasn’t for the fact that he actually killed her. Oh, and his daughter in Florida hates him too because she knows he’s a murderer.
Why he wouldn’t want to flee this home and take his new money far away with him is never explained. The fact that he continues to cut their lawn and creepily watch them have sex at night, right before he throws Scott over his own banister and ties Annie to a bedpost, seemingly without any fear of police intervention, is an overwhelming level of mediocre-old-white-guy entitlement.
“The Intruder” rings incredibly hollow. Even the cinematography, from the legendary Daniel Pearl (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” 1974 and 2003), is dull, never creating tension or a sense of haunting in Annie and Scott’s massively landscaped and multi-floored home. Add to that sound effects mixer Dan Gamache’s (“The Highwaymen”) failure to heighten the suspense with creaky floors or a rusty knife being removed from its holder, basic elements that amp up the chill factor in any run-of-the-mill home invasion film, which this very much is.
What makes any contribution to this genre captivating to watch — whether it’s “Funny Games,” “Don’t Breathe,” or “Secuestrados,” to name just a few — is the villain’s believable conflict. The villain — in this case, Charlie — has to be compelling enough to keep you invested because he/she makes the film. Protagonists like Annie and Scott also have to be well-developed characters for whom you want to root. Otherwise, you end up with “The Intruder,” a flaccid wannabe thriller that barely spends any time forming its story, and what little we do know is utterly uninteresting.