Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Filmmaker Deon Taylor’s TRAFFIK demonstrated how he crafts tension out of being terrorized, but he fully embraces the facets of the thriller genre with his latest, THE INTRUDER. These moments fraught with fright lean into the fun of it all. Not only that, his collaboration with star Dennis Quaid utilizes the actor’s famous Cheshire grin for maximum impact.
In the film, Scott and Annie Howard (Michael Ealy and Meagan Goode) have just purchased their dream home in Napa. They think they’ve found it all in this ivy covered manse settled on a picturesque plot of land. However, they’ve gotten more than they bargained for when it comes to the home’s former owner, Charlie Peck (Quaid). His psychological attachment to the home becomes an pressing issue for the young couple. And the more he drives a wedge in between the pair, the more his malevolence is uncovered.
At the press day, I spoke with the director about everything from a letter he wrote to Quaid, to his quest to find the perfect home in which to shoot, and working with yet another a cinematic pioneer behind the camera.
This is a movie that encourages the audience to get vocal and engage with what’s on screen. Do you keep that in mind when your directing?
Yes. This movie in particular is the first straight thriller I’ve done. I did TRAFFIK, but I had a really deeper meaning. This one was like, “Alright. Let’s just have fun.” There’s no take. It’s just escapism.
We had a lot of good luck from the universe. I wrote Dennis Quaid a letter and asked him if he’d please do this movie. I never expected to hear back from him. I got a phone call and he was all, “I’m coming to do that movie and I love it.” From that point on I knew things were going to be different. We grabbed Meagan[Goode] and Michael [Ealy]. They were great for the culture, but when you add that next level. Dennis is one of the last movie stars.
He’s one of the most underestimated working actors.
I think so too! Dennis Quaid from THE ROOKIE, to THE RIGHT STUFF… As a director, it was one of the most beautiful experiences as an actor-director relationships. He came to me and said, “I believe in your vision for this. You tell me what you want me to do and I’m doing it.”
We played with this Charlie Peck character a lot. He has so many different personalities; He has a lisp. He’s direct. He’s scary. [Quaid] would call him out and say, “I’m going to go for this.” It shows you how talented he is. We work in this space and take a lot of performances for granted, or people getting celebrated for one great performance. How about 45 years of performances?!
We were laughing week one. Week two got a little darker. Week three, I remember Mike Ealy came to me and was like, “Yo! Dennis is crazy. He is nuts!” That’s when you know you’re doing something special when the cast says, “Hey is he alright?”
I don’t think we’ve seen Dennis go this deep into a villain role before. What was interesting to me was that his role in THE INTRUDER is the polar opposite to his role in COLD CREEK MANOR, where, there, he played the terrorized victim.
That’s right. COLD CREEK MANOR is a fantastic movie. He is epic.
This is not the traditional “break in” type film, because he’s not breaking in – he’s breaking them down. This dilemma and exploration into what a person would do when pushed to the edge to protect the thing you love – on all three of these character’s sides – is interesting.
They all have something to do. They all have a stance. That’s a special trait to have in the movie. Although Charlie Peck is crazy, you’re with him to a certain point. He’s not just terrorizing. He wants it all back.
Did you have to modulate the point at which he becomes more than just an annoying nuisance? Like if the former owner of my home showed up, I’d be like, “Sure. You can mow my lawn! I don’t wanna mow it.”
Yeah, but it’s another thing if you wake up in the morning and he’s right there. We had to do that scene four times because I would bust up laughing every time he said, “Yeah. That’s where I keep it.” I love that scene. The movie is fun that way. You find yourself laughing and having a good time and you relax. And around the third act you go, “Hey that dude is crazy.”
The house is gorgeous. I’d imagine that was an equal challenge to cast.
Yeah. It was a staple to the film. Before we cast, I was trying to figure out the house. We went up to Vancouver. I struck out for two or three days. We were an independent production, trying to save money. I said, “I could find this house in Napa. I know where it’s at.” Finally, the last day [of being in Napa], the driver said, “I’ve been up here for a long time doing productions. There’s a house everyone keeps passing on, but me hearing you talk about it, you might be interested. It’s called Foxglove. I can take you guys to it.” We rode there off his word.
I remember, like the movie, going through the trees and revealing the waterfall and I looked and said, “This is crazy! No one could possibly live here.” And then the homeowners came out and they had a big dog. For thirty minutes, we all walked around the property. The house is a hundred years old.
Everyone urged me not to do that house. When you get inside the home, it’s very small. When you start thinking about camera equipment, it wasn’t practical. I was going back and forth with Daniel Pearl, our cinematographer, and he was like, “We can’t shoot in there. We’re gonna bump into each other.” We looked at one other house and by the time we got to that house, I decided on Foxglove. When you see this cinematically – the deer, the approach – everything was there.
You’ve worked with an amazing cinematographer before on TRAFFIK –
Dante Spinotti. But I wanted to chat about collaborating with the legendary Daniel Pearl to create the look of this movie.
I’ve been blessed beyond measure working with cinematographers. I have two cinematographers who are in the history books. Daniel is the creator of the dolly – the first guy to pick up a 16mm camera and shoot handheld. No one even knew what that was. There you get one of the most classic horror movie of all time. This is the guy who shot that and came back 20 years later to do the remake. We just finished with Dante on BLACK AND BLUE. They are really different – like night and day.
Daniel’s work on this film is epic. There’s moments where Michael Ealy is living in shadows and Dennis is out of shadows. There’s moment, like the bar scene, where we had conversations about what’s going on. Everyone’s in trouble. We’re going to go red. That stuff plays with their psyche.
One of the most gorgeous things about the movie is you’re lighting black skin and white skin. That’s a very hard thing to do. And to hold beauty! The light isn’t changing. He’s lighting characters to exist in the same frame with different complexions. The shot from the trailer when Michael runs out and the light swipes by Dennis in the shadows, I remember Pearl said, “I got it! I know how to do it with the light.” Setting up the shot took an hour. When that light swung around for the first time in the shot, everyone on set was all, “Ooooh!” That was not CGI. That was a practical guy in a one-er, the camera spins around and a burst of light passes over and lights him in one shot. I said, “This guy is amazing. I have to one-up him.”
The scene that’s in the trailer where Annie goes to get her phone, where the camera swings this way and comes back to her, that was my shot. He said, “No…” I said, “I gave you your shot, right? Gimme my shot.” Everyone went, “Oooh!” We were really doing something special. We had the camera guys, the director, the talent all competing to do something great.
THE INTRUDER opens on May 3.