Written by: David Loughery
Directed by: Deon Taylor
Starring: Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid, and Michael Ealy
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Your House. His Home.
The Intruder is the latest in a long line of psycho-thrillers that takes the most unassuming folks—stepfathers, roommates, babysitters, parking garage attendants, French widows—and imagines if they were sent straight from the depths of hell. This one, however, offers the relatively rare “Dennis Quaid from hell,” as the actor trades in his typically affable, ruggedly charming persona for something decidedly more sinister. You could easily imagine a “Randy Quaid from hell,” but here we have the rarer variant tasked with carrying an otherwise unremarkable take on this sort of thing. It’s not that The Intruder is a total whiff—it’s just that, like so many of its fellow Screen Gems thrillers out of this mold, it never quite truly embraces its trash impulses. You get the sense that it only kind of knows what it’s up to, and, by that point, it’s a little too late, so you find yourself stretching to give it backhanded compliments for being breezy, dumb fun.
But there’s a place for that, and this offering would have you to believe Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Megan Good), a young couple who works in advertisement and freelance writing are in the market for a luxurious house in the Napa Valley. Not just any home, either: Annie has her sights set on an entire estate nestled far away in the woods—the perfect place to raise a family, she insists. Their initial meeting with the estate’s owner, Charlie Peck (Quaid), is not without its awkward exchanges: he’s a little too eager to get rid of the place and is particularly insistent on making sure this nice couple gets it. He even knocks the price down to just over $3 million—a practical steal, what with all the money these two must be making from (checks notes) marketing and (squints harder) freelance writing. At any rate, Scott relents, only to immediately regret the decision when it becomes clear that Charlie is not retiring to Florida to live with his daughter; instead, he pops up at the house, doing menial lawn work and being a true pest before growing violently defensive of the house he once owned.
A prime example of the sort of thriller where the audience is waiting for its dimwitted characters to catch up with the truth, The Intruder mostly plods along, exploiting that obvious tension. Scott is the first to be wary of Charlie, but poor Annie just can’t bring herself to believe that this sweet, lonely widower could mean any harm. She even goes so far as to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner and lets him decorate the house for Christmas. Nevermind that their first meeting involved Charlie blowing a deer’s head off at point-blank range, of course. Kindly ignore the weird, leering looks and the obvious, unhealthy reaction he has for any of the changes the couple has made to the house. Maybe he’s just weird and somewhat awkward—you never know!
To the script’s (and Quaid’s) credit, Charlie’s transgressions are somewhat subtle for a while. His bizarre reactions aside, he doesn’t actually cross any particularly heinous boundaries; in fact, I think the “worst” thing he does for the first hour of the film is put one of Scott’s friends in his place for putting in cigarette out in the nicely manicured lawn by burning a hole in the asshole’s Corinthian leather car seats. A totally just retaliation, in my opinion, because a.) fuck inconsiderate smokers and b.) fuck inconsiderate rich people. To be honest, I almost found myself sympathizing with Charlie for a minute, so much so that I thought it might even be interesting if everyone’s suspicious were wrong about him. What if he was just a little strange and having a difficult time letting his home go? Don’t ask me how that would work in a film titled The Intruder.
Of course, we don’t have to speculate about that at all since The Intruder unfolds pretty much exactly as you expect it to, as Charlie’s transgressions become more overtly unhinged, setting the stage for a wild climax. In the meantime, screenwriter David Loughery does what he can to make the build-up interesting. And by “interesting,” I mean that he resorts to cliché, messy trainwreck drama between Scott and Annie, whose marriage isn’t as picturesque at it seems: his flirtation with a girl at an ice cream parlor inspires some accusatory side-eye from Annie, whose suspicious are well-founded once we learn about Scott’s previous infidelities. To be honest, none of this serves much purpose beyond giving the audience the opportunity to rubberneck at trashy drama; it technically leads to a subplot where Michael almost cheats on Annie with a co-worker, only to see him back off at the last second, almost as if the movie wants you to cheer him for having basic decency. It doesn’t bode well when your main character’s defining trait is “didn’t cheat on his wife (again).”
In this respect, it seems like the film knows you’re here for one reason: the see Dennis Quaid go absolutely HAM. Since everyone surrounding him is such a thudding bore, you can’t help but delight in the disconnect between Quaid’s usual persona and whatever the hell he’s doing here. While director Deon Taylor and company seem content to just coast on this incongruent sight, Quaid at least has the decency to go for it. He doesn’t just embrace the opportunity; he relishes it, adopting bizarre facial tics and putting just enough discomforting treble in his voice. Charlie is the type of guy who knows exactly what he’s up to, yet annoyingly feigns ignorance when he’s called out on it. Usually, this type of shit behavior would be enough to arouse some sense of revulsion, but in this case (either because it’s Dennis Quaid or because everyone around him sucks worse), Charlie’s struggle to maintain the façade is just about the only reason to watch The Intruder.
Unfortunately, the script never feels too bothered to keep pace with its increasingly manic star. It actually gives him precious little to do besides mug for the camera as he hisses ominous dialogue and delivers pizzas with sinister intentions before he kills exactly one (1) person. Only towards the end does the script make a more spirited attempt to keep up; granted, even this (relatively) delirious final act hinges on a plot device we’ve seen in recent memory, but it’s just the right amount of stupid for something like The Intruder, a movie where characters don’t bother to look into a man’s history until several months after they’ve bought his house and watched him hang around against their wishes. The script dutifully spills its lurid secrets here, revealing that Charlie isn’t who he seems and that the weird red stain on one of the house’s walls definitely isn’t Kool-Aid.
With its facade thoroughly crumbled, The Intruder is free to fully unhinge during that final confrontation between Charlie and the couple. It’s the usual rough-and-tumble stuff, with Charlie spouting his psychotic platitudes about both the house and Annie belonging to him before they turn the tables on him. Quaid is again the star here, glowering and growling through this nonsense, bursting through doors like Nicholson in The Shining and even bellowing the most biologically inaccurate roaring this side of Jaws: The Revenge. Most of The Intruder asks you to kindly stifle your giggling (mostly by not giving you much of a reason to do so in the first place), but it gives you full permission to guffaw here, right up to the final, rousing scene, where our “hero” commits cold-blooded murder and it’s meant to be a triumph of masculinity.
About that: the script’s only real attempt to wrestle in any real-world socio-political issues comes with Scott’s repeated insistence on not having guns on his property after seeing his brother shot to death during his childhood. It’s actually one of the few noble dimensions to this character, one that goes woefully underexplored and tossed out of the window once Loughery decides he’s making a half-assed riff on Straw Dogs, right down to having its pacifist resort to violence after all and confirming this toxic vision of manhood. I suppose there's something inherently provocative about a black man killing a white intruder with all judgments reserved, if only because we know such an exchange would likely be heavily scrutinized in an actual court (not to mention the court of public opinion). Now that I think about it, maybe this is the most unrealistic thing about The Intruder.
I know, I know: a movie whose logline boasts the presence of an insane Dennis Quaid isn’t exactly begging for such introspection as it stages “cathartic” violence, but there are so many obvious implications lurking just beneath the surface of this well-worn exploitation staple. At its heart, The Intruder is a film about an insane Baby Boomer in a red hat terrorizing a young, ambitious couple just trying to make something their own, which is truly a story for our time. That this is an African-American couple makes it even more loaded, yet nobody seems to be too interested in playing up that aspect. Indeed, this is Screen Gems’ patented sanitized take on exploitation, one that’s unwilling (or too afraid) to indulge true nastiness, leaving the audience with tame, middle-of-the-road schlock that delivers exactly what’s promised and nothing more. Maybe there’s some value in that (especially when, again, you are promised psycho Dennis Quaid), but wouldn’t it be nice to be genuinely surprised, shocked, or even a little revolted by one of these things for a change?
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