In a spring season that’s seen nothing but shoddy, mislaid attempts at broadening the typical horror or thriller film, to perhaps go beyond the typical, only to come up short, course correction on the first counter-program weekend of summer may be a must. That mark has been approached, yet not fully crossed after some lackluster decisions made in the later act of what may be the silliest piece of dramatic suspense placed on screens so far in 2019. The Intruder, the latest in a long line of standard Screen Gems thrillers, sustains its predestined label, rising to a lofty high on its own absurdist notion, headlined by Dennis Quaid as a frustrated, loopy, borderline insane ex-homeowner. Director Deon Taylor (Traffik) finds comfort in raising the unbelievable, with no clear path for how to finish the hat. And that may not be as large an issue as anyone else may believe, shockingly enough.
The film starts out very cookie-cutter, hesitant to go much further off the bat. Scott Howard (Michael Ealy), a wide-eyed marketing guru has just married his long-time sweetheart, magazine columnist Annie (Meagan Good) and are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, stumbling on a modest, ivy-coated palace in the heart of the Napa Valley that’s up for sale. The big catch that the marketing makes obvious is the former owner, Charlie Peck (Quaid), isn’t quite ready to part. It had been in his family for generations long before him, and it bears a certain history that’s vaguely worth hiding.
The Howards do have major life goals to attend to, the largest of which trying to build a family in their new, slightly secluded, iron-gated residence. Charlie’s just being a kindly neighbor, at first glance. Annie’s bought in immediately, while Scott turns into the uber-protective husband, wanting to do right by his partner. It does frustrate the otherwise cheerful former owner, to the point where secrets are exposed; as if they weren’t well guarded, to begin with.
The audience I had viewed it with were well-reactive, perhaps a little too in on the gimmick, of sorts. David Loughery’s (Lakeview Terrace, Quaid-starred Dreamscape) script may lend itself to a variety of audience impressions; it’s never the same simple response he poses. And yet it doesn’t dig too deep for too long into a character’s fractured psyche, which in the case of Charlie’s backstory, would’ve benefitted greatly. We see the top layer of one’s motivation, perhaps one extra in the third act when everything’s added up, but for a thriller so simple, a little more complexity could’ve been of higher sustenance.
And yet, it doesn’t completely hinder Quaid’s screen presence. He hasn’t much experience in the area of “deranged lunatics”, and it shows. It may a slight stretch, trying a bit hard to further extend his range. His subtle physical quirks: vein popping out on his neck, eyes bulging, etc.; all that saves the performance, lightly transcending the film out of the normal thriller sphere, and into something cheesier than most. It’s perhaps the best overacting one could expect out of a perfect midnight movie from a bygone era, something the film’s marketing abruptly fails to recognize.
Taylor’s directorial approach packs in plenty of opportunities to further increase the intensity, but little room for left-field originality to blossom. It couldn’t be any clearer just how much copy-and-paste he and Loughery involve; when there’s potential for a big plot shocker to emerge, the consistent thrill-ride aesthetic burns itself out too quickly, and rather harshly. Melissa Kent’s (The Dirt) penchant for quick cuts and needless face-filling close-ups don’t completely help matters much. By the time the ending rolls around, a pure adrenaline craving may kick in to offset a clear-as-day copout.
And while I could praise this film for not factoring in a racial disagreement for the catalyst of Scott’s direct disapproval to Charlie, their unique war still comes off as unsettling, and not fully believable, less so than Charlie on his own. With that said, the rest of the cast fares well enough, with Good and Ealy posing decent chemistry; had they worked more closely together to shed light on Charlie’s deal, with Annie not being so in-the-dark, that would’ve made them far more likable. Their closest couple friends, Mike and Rachel (Joseph Sikora, Alvina August) are easy to see come and go, the latter especially for Mike, like many a fallen best friend who experiences a demise too early for any manner of impact.
For all its mildly flawed annoyances, I still felt comfortable in the jilted groove of The Intruder. Quaid still makes it his own film, gravitating above the mere thriller Taylor’s aiming for. But there’s no way I could forgive how much the recycled script implodes while catching fire on itself before all’s said and done. It stumbles slowly out of the gate, before reaching appreciatively stratospheric heights, lacking a firm place to fall back on. All of this is stuff I may continue to put under the microscope for some time, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t fully enjoy it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the audience I sat with didn’t either, so anyone who sees this should see this as a warning. It may be meant to be in good fun, and it was. But should I stumble on it again down the road on cable television, it’ll be best to have a drink in one hand, and an arsenal of riffs in the other. (C-)
The Intruder opens in most area theaters this weekend; rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality, language, and thematic elements; 102 minutes.