First titled Shut In (the name of a Naomi Watts thriller opening in July) and then named Intruders (not to be confused with the 2012 Clive Owen thriller), Intruders is as familiar as its moniker but in logline alone. As a home-invasion suspenser, the film still doesn’t much care about reinventing the wheel completely but it is a nasty piece of work, that you can be sure of. Once debuting director Adam Schindler and writers T.J. Cimfel and David White (who wrote the “Vicious Circles” segment in V/H/S Viral) show their hand, the film averts expectations by bucking the rote path with the use of misdirection. Without cheating or telegraphing its pivotal narrative turn too much before it makes the switch, Intruders is unabated with a savage, subversive streak.
Anna (Beth Riesgraf) is an agoraphobic who hasn’t left her Louisiana family home in a decade. She lives to take care of her brother, Conrad (Timothy T. McKinney), who’s dying of pancreatic cancer. When her crippling condition prevents her from getting out the door the same day as Conrad’s funeral, she is soon startled by three men coming into her house. Before this intruder situation, Anna tried to give a portion of her family’s jackpot fortune as a way to start anew to Dan (Rory Culkin), the friendly deliveryman who always brought her brother’s daily meals, but he couldn’t accept it. The men, brothers J.P. (Jack Kesy) and Vance (Joshua Mikel) and loose cannon Perry (Martin Starr), didn’t expect Anna to be home but her whistling tea kettle gives away her presence, not that she could leave anyway. It’s obvious the intruders are looking to steal the young woman’s hidden fortune but aside from her agoraphobia being one weakness, Anna isn’t as fragile as she looks.
Whether or not it be the corner-cutting result of budget constraints, Intruders is a savvy example of small-scale storytelling. With a plausible reason for Anna to not leave the house, the film gets away with staying in one location and milks it for tension and claustrophobia, making everyone a shut-in. The labyrinthine structure of Anna’s house also plays a big part, more than one staircase leading to other areas of the house and secret passages opening. When push comes to shove, Anna does use her resources (not to mention her seemingly meek disposition) to her advantage.
Violently replete with people breaking bones and getting maimed with the business end of objects, Intruders is as unpleasant as it is gripping and clearly on the side of Anna. At first, the film has a pro-feminist slant, but then there’s a twist of the knife when the viewer almost begins losing rooting interest for everyone. In theory, this should be detrimental, watching an awful person doing awful things to other awful people. However, to the film’s credit, it’s better to take a chance and try riding the line of sympathetic and unsympathetic—and protagonist and antagonist—with its characters instead of hemming them into tidy archetypes.
Beth Riesgraf handles the role of Anna with aplomb, not completely warming the viewer up to her with a prickly tough love toward her dying brother, even as she devotes her life taking care of him. She is root-worthy enough as a put-upon young woman before her attackers even invade her homestead during her bereavement process, but she’s also an enigma who’s willing to test her own morality for what she thinks is right. When a fight-or-flight response triggers, Anna’s strength doesn’t come out of nowhere. Of the intruders, Martin Starr (whom we’re used to seeing play more comedic types) plays the most despicable and unhinged one as Perry, who has no hesitation in harming Anna’s pet.
The last film to turn the home-invasion on its ear was Adam Wingard’s 2013 crafty, supremely entertaining You’re Next, where all bets were off but never went off the rails. While that uncompromising, darkly funny gem was more successful at being a game-changer for the tired sub-genre, Intruders is still a focused, tautly devised single-location thriller that deserves a fair shake.
Intruders is available now on iTunes and video-on-demand platforms.