I’m a sucker for a decent thriller now and then. You know the kind of film where you yell at the screen for someone to look behind them as a stalker creeps up? Combine this concept with the traditional home invasion trope and it usually makes for at least enjoyable cinema. That’s basically the setup for “The Intruder”, a new thriller from Dean Taylor, the director of “Meet the Blacks” and “Traffik”. “The Intruder” sports an interesting premise that sees a former homeowner obsessed with the house he has sold and who become a burden on the couple who purchase the property. On the surface this sounds like an awesome idea that begs to capture the best aspects of its duel genres, home invasion and stalker fiction, but how well does “The Intruder” manage to stand out from the crowd. Well, I’m here to tell you what I think. This is my review of “The Intruder”.
“The Intruder” stars Michael Ealy and Meagan Good as married couple Scott and Annie Howard who decide, after Scott lands a big deal in his ad agency, to buy their dream home in Napa Valley. Annie falls in love with a home nicknamed Foxglove, owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid). Charlie reveals that he grew up and raised a family in the house and shows clear hesitation and disappointment that he is selling the home to move to Florida to live with his daughter. After the Howards move in however their happy home life is interrupted constantly by Peck who takes it upon himself to care for the lawn, chase away intruding young teens partying on the roads nearby, and intrude on the Howard’s lives acting as if he still owns the home. As Peck’s obsession with the house becomes clearer Scott discovers that Peck may have other motivations as well and that the former owner of the couple’s dream home may be more dangerous than they ever imagined.
Sadly while “The Intruder” certainly has its moments, it pretty much plays out like the typical garden variety thriller as well as a cliched home invasion feature. A lot of this plot we’ve seen many times before, albeit with the admittedly fun twist of a homeowner being obsessed with a house after he sells it. There was plenty of potential for something genuinely unique to come from this project. When I first saw the trailers I assumed that maybe there would be some racial subtext included in the plot. After all, it is about a black couple inheriting the house of an old, white, backwoods male. It’s a cliché, and maybe one too overplayed in modern cinema, but it would fit the times and honestly a story about a man who reluctantly sells to a non-white couple and then wants to renege on that sale due to prejudice would have made for a much better story than what we actually got. Instead “The Intruder” decides to go the typical thriller route of making its antagonist mentally unstable and letting the audience wait until he cracks to see his grand scheme unfold. I felt like there were hundreds of different, better directions that this movie could have taken in order to make use of its premise. Sadly, it feels like it plays almost everything pretty safe. It follows the typical story beats of the main characters slowly realizing the danger while the viewers are privy to the psycho’s stalking and sprinkles in a myriad of clichés along the way to give the characters something to do while it bloats the run time to the violent conclusion we all want to see. That essentially sums up the narrative structure in a nutshell so I wouldn’t go in expecting anything too original.
It doesn’t help that the script is bland and predictably stale and unconvincing or that the main couple isn’t that easy to root for. Michael Ealy and Meagan Good aren’t bad actors, but they lack a lot of chemistry on screen with Ealy specifically feeling dry and uninterested for most of the film. As we learn more about Ealy’s character, Scott, he actually becomes very unlikable as we come to realize he has a cheating past and is very standoffish with almost everyone he comes across. Now, this COULD have made for an interesting premise. Maybe Scott’s dry nature and past infidelities could have pushed his wife to find interest in Charlie Peck, the villain, who she seems to get along with throughout the film. In fact, it’s a possibility that even touched on in a simple throwaway conversation before the halfway point. Once again though I bring up an idea that would have been so much better than what we got and instead we get a wife who feels too forgiving of her bland husband who has few redeeming factors other than the fact that he is rightfully irritated with a man who keeps invading his property. The filmmakers try to make up for this lack of chemistry by dwelling on the sex appeal but that ends up being the only believable part of this relationship.
All that said though the real star of the show here is Dennis Quaid as Charlie Peck, the obsessed property owner who longs to get his house back from the Howard’s and becomes the titular intruder. Quaid gives us a constantly creepy and unhinged old man who possesses charm and an unforgiving relentlessness that keeps you on edge every time he’s on the screen. You never know what he’s going to do and it always seems like he’s hiding something from the Howards. Quaid is the best thing about this movie, as most stalker film villains tend to be, but even he feels too held back and reserved at times. Peck never goes full on psycho until the finale and yet the entire movie it feels like he has something hidden behind his smile. In an odd way it looks like Quaid is trying to hold back and go all out at the same time. It’s an approach that ends up complimenting his character’s personality quite well although the back story we end up getting for him fails to give him any humanity. He just ends up being an old man who is sent over the edge by things that were his own fault. Once again I can think of a story arc that would have suited this character better, the third time in this review I feel like I could have written a better story, but in order for me to explain I’d have to delve into spoiler territory so I’ll just say there was a way to work his ultimate plan into the plot so that it made Peck a more sympathetic, if still despicable, villain.
I will give “The Intruder” this, while a lot of the film is boring filler, genre clichés and buildup, once we get to the finale things really get good. The thrills and suspense of the final twenty minutes or half hour are what we really wanted to see from this film and there is a lot of payoff although granted very little actually “blood” shed. The PG-13 rating really dumbs down the violence and allowed for some VERY annoying younger audience members in the theater I was in…but I digress. The final sequence of events where the climactic ultimate intrusion into the home takes place was pretty fun and satisfying even for a bloodless PG-13 rendering of a product. The physical beat downs and dramatic escapes are just as fun to watch as they are in any genre staple providing myself, and many fans in my theater, a chance to yell at the screen when Peck sneaks up behind someone or clap when the heroes got the upper hand. Even when you know what’s going to happen “The Intruder” provides some enjoyable, pulse-pounding thriller action that is bound to satisfy those simply looking for an hour and a half of harmless cinematic fun. There’s not a lot of substance to build up to it, but a least it pays off on its promise for a violent and aggressive end.
“The Intruder” is nothing special. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s pretty generic on most if not all accounts. The main leads aren’t great nor are they given much of anything unique or of substance to work with and the plot feels very “by the books” with so many different takes on the story that I myself felt could have been explored and brought the premise to life much more effectively. The villain is decent but I feel like there were better ways make him more than just a psychotic and obsessed stalker. All in all, I feel like “The Intruder” had potential but tragically missed the mark choosing to play things safe rather than try much of anything new or unique. Its climactic scene offers plenty of the thrills viewers are probably looking for walking in, but it’s such a slow and bland buildup that even with a satisfying conclusion it’s far from enough to make the experience as a whole worth another go around. Am I disappointed? Not really. I kind of expected what I got. I am however tragically underwhelmed especially since the idea of someone stalking and mentally torturing the new owners of their home seems like such a good idea. Here it’s sadly wasted on a film that does only what it has to and barely anything else.