A successful young couple, tired of living in their gorgeous San Francisco apartment, decide to look for an estate in Napa Valley where they can relax, start a family and live their version of the American Dream. It’s just their bad luck that the owner of the $3.2 million property they decide to settle down in is a murderous psychopath with an annoying habit of showing up in their yard, and eventually in their house, at any given time whether he’s been invited or not.
If that reads like a spoiler, then you haven’t seen any of the trailers for The Intruder, a filmed-by-numbers thriller that fails to bring any original style or substance to the big screen.
Directed by Deon Taylor (Meet the Blacks), the film features Meagan Good (Shazam!) and Michael Ealy (The Perfect Guy) as the couple, Annie and Scott Russell: He’s the creative genius of a fabulous big city advertising firm and she, for lack of any real character development in David Loughery’s script, is his wife. They seem happy enough as the movie opens, and there is genuine chemistry between the two actors which leaves the audience wondering from the start why they want to move in the first place. They may repeatedly say they want to start a family…or at least the wife does … but there is no palpable feeling of anxiousness behind the words they read from their scripts. It’s not as if they have had a bad experience in the city that makes them long for the country life; their apartment looks great, they have dozens of awesome friends and, above all, they seem happy. Why they want to trade it in for a home that will mean a 90-minute commute for Scott just isn’t justified to the audience; after all, people have families in the city, too.
All need for reason aside, though, the Russell’s go house hunting and end up at a moldy old estate owned by the extremely creepy Charley Peck (Dennis Quaid). While one would think that, in the quest to add some genuine thrills to his thriller, the director may have coached Quaid to act cool for the first few scenes he has with the family, it’s clear from the minute he appears on the screen, following his violent killing of an innocent deer the Russell’s have been going all gaga over, that subtlety is not what Quaid has in mind for Charley Peck. He just cranks up the crazy to 11 and never slackens the pace even when he’s supposedly charming his way into the couple’s life. His trademark grin may say I’m old but still that sexy guy you remember from The Big Easy, but his eyes scream psycho. It’s an almost cartoonish performance, more Snidely Whiplash than sinister stalker, and the snippets of the soundtrack that they use to announce his presence on the screen, a noise that sounds like a bassoon and a didgeridoo fighting to the death, only underline the silliness of it all.
Since Quaid’s performance, not to mention the title, the trailer and just about every other bit of promotional material associated with the movie, telegraphs that the Russell’s dream is going to turn into a nightmare before the lights come back up, sitting through The Intruder quickly turns into a 102-minute waiting game to see if the filmmakers can come up with something exciting, or at least interesting, to keep us engaged. Or at least something to keep us from leaving. Sadly they don’t, despite the frantic layering of subplots and backstories in the last half hour.
For example, there is the subplot about an indiscretion in the past where Scott sent Annie a text, rather than call her, to say he’d be home late. He didn’t call, we discover, because he was having an affair. So when he’s out after work having drinks with a client and texts again, it sets off alarm bells for Annie. The fact that she has reason to be worried in the form of a sports drink entrepreneur who comes across more like a call girl than a client adds absolutely nothing to the story except movie it along to the cliche confrontation when Scott gets home.
The script also gives crazy Charlie Peck a backstory where we are told that the wife he said died of cancer really died because he blew her head off with a shotgun and then made it look like a suicide. In a good movie, it’s the kind of revelation that would shock the audience and ramp up the tension they experienced as the film raced to its final confrontation between good (The Russells) and Evil (crazy Charlie Peck). Here, it’s no surprise at all since every time Charlie tells anyone who will listen that his wife died of cancer he all but twirls an imaginary handlebar mustache as he laughs maniacally. There’s no real shock or even any surprise when we discover the details.
In what feels like a last desperate act of salvation, Taylor pulls out all the stops to try and make the ending of the film exciting and, to his credit, the director almost pulls it off. Annie finds out just why crazy Charlie Peck was able to show up so often when she falls through the back of a closet into a hidden hovel that he’s been living in. (So that’s why crazy Charlie Peck made sure to show the Russell’s the linen closet when he gave them their initial house tour.) What follows is a frantic chase through the home as crazy Charlie Peck tries desperately to convince Annie (and the audience) that he did it all for her, although knocking her out and sexually assaulting her does nothing to prove his point. Instead, it just inflames the audience enough to want to seem crazy Charlie Peck killed in the most gruesome way possible. And while he does get it in the end, it’s not in nearly as graphic a way as you want/need to see to give The Intruder any sense of lasting value for your money or your time.
- John Black, The Intruder