Poor Maisie Williams. After spending eight seasons on “Game of Thrones,” with her character Arya Stark being orphaned, beaten, blinded and battered, she got a job as a Marvel superhero in “The New Mutants” – but that film, which hit theaters on Aug. 28, turned out to put a horror-movie spin on a Marvel movie by focusing on superpowers run amok in an abandoned hospital.
And now, only a week later, Williams is back starring in “The Owners.” And you don’t even want to know what happens to her in this nasty piece of work.
Or maybe you do want to know. Maybe you don’t see that phrase, nasty piece of work, as a pejorative. Hell, maybe I didn’t even mean it to be pejorative.
Based on the French comic book “Une nuit de pleine lune” and directed by Julius Berg, “The Owners” is tense, uneasy and brutal, escalating from the creepy to the ludicrous over the course of 92 deliberately unpleasant minutes. At a time when lots of streaming and VOD releases flirt with horror – and, you could say, a time when real life has distinctly horrific elements – it might make for an appropriately diverting and unsettling evening, particularly if you love Maisie Williams (who doesn’t?) and don’t mind doing a whole lot of squirming and a fair amount of shouting “What the hell are you doing?” at the screen.
Or it might be a must to avoid. (Your mileage may vary.)
The film begins on a bucolic hillside, where three thuggish lads sit in a car staking out the lavish house of a well-to-do elderly couple. The three are Terry, the clumsy one, whose mother works as a housekeeper in the mansion; Nathan, the likeable one, who’s borrowed his girlfriend’s car for the stakeout; and Gaz, the crazy evil one, who’s angular, feral and clearly unhinged.
Nathan’s girlfriend, Mary (Williams), shows up during the stakeout, and before long she reluctantly ends up with them in the house, where the would-be robbers are stymied by the existence of a large and unbreakable safe in the basement. They decide to wait for the elderly couple, a doctor and his wife, to return home, certain that a few threats will scare the combination out of them.
Do you need to be told that they picked the wrong house? No, you probably don’t.
And boy is it the wrong house. Dr. Huggins (Sylvester McCoy, who played Rhadagast in the “Hobbit” movies and was the seventh Doctor Who back in the late ’80s) and his wife, Ellen (Rita Tushingham, who was quite the on-screen sensation in Swinging London in the ’60s) appear to be a timid, scared and awfully polite couple for a while, but they always have an edge: “I think somebody didn’t get enough spankings when he was little,” hisses Ellen as she watches the intruders go about their business.
Before long, the tables are turned and the Hugginses have the upper hand, which they exercise with enough forced politeness to make your skin crawl. A conversation over tea, rife with strained politeness, is more than a little reminiscent of the dinner-table scene in “A Clockwork Orange,” where Alex is the guest of the man whose wife he raped and killed a few years earlier.
The first half of the film leans heavily on being atmospheric and sinister, with a detour into nerve-wracking during a lengthy standoff in the basement. But the homestretch simply goes full gonzo in a way that is pretty scary but not remotely believable. The music goes all screechy, Mary battles with psychotic captors and idiotic allies, and the whole thing becomes increasingly baroque and twisted and ludicrous.
As the only person in the movie you might be inclined to like, Williams is always watchable, and McCoy and Tushingham chew the scenery with relish. They are among the small pleasures in a gruesome concoction that flirts with being entertaining in a gruesome, bonkers way, but mostly ends up annoying.
And once again, Maisie deserves better.