Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, 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
Rated PG-13, 1 hour and 42 minutes
Directed by: Deon Taylor
If there’s one thing THE INTRUDER does perfectly, it’s how director Deon Taylor leans into screenwriter David Loughery’s hairpin turns with bravura and swagger, all whilst delivering genre-certified winks and nods to its unabashed insanity. This throwback thriller is akin to 90’s classics like THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE and UNLAWFUL ENTRY – movies that explore the panic behind a seemingly trustworthy figure who harbors nefarious ulterior motives. While THE INTRUDER doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors, as it falls apart during the climax, it’s a rollicking, crowd-pleasing experience.
Beautiful marrieds Scott and Annie Howard (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good) are looking to move from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco to the removed, relaxed suburban draw of Napa. This seems like a career-ending move for both of them (him as the #1 earner at an ad agency, and her as a writer at a women’s magazine focusing on injustice), but it’s clear these two are tenacious. If the commute doesn’t kill Scott, someone else is gonna try. Despite his recent extra-marital affair lingering in the air, the couple are taking the next steps in their relationship: buying a home and hoping to furnish it with kids. And they find their picturesque, peaceful palace within the vine-covered walls of “Foxglove,” a million dollar mansion ironically named after a pretty but poisonous flower that grows on the property.
The trouble is their dream home is currently occupied by former owner Charlie Peck (Quaid), a semi-casual racist and imposing presence. He stands in complete contrast to the new homeowners: an older, retired, widowed white man with an L.L. Bean-based wardrobe (replete with rustic flannel shirts and MAGA-adjacent bright red baseball cap) that cloaks deep dark secrets and an unhinged temperament. He’s got a hunger for hunting and a yearning for yardwork, unlike Scott, who is fearful of guns and too busy for weeding. Scott and Annie see deer on their property as peaceful. But to Charlie, they are a pestilence. Charlie’s classic decorating tastes also diverge from Scott and Annie’s more modern style.
Charlie’s psychological attachment to the home first manifests itself through good deeds, like mowing the lawn and helping Annie hang Christmas lights. For a while, he seems more helpful than harmful. Only he has trouble keeping up that façade for long, as his need to possess what he once had dominates. And when the couple expresses their desperate need for privacy, their reasonable request sends Charlie into a tailspin, making him an unwelcome guest in the Howard household.
Taylor and cinematographer Daniel Pearl add an appealing aesthetic to the escalating homeowner hijinks. The saturated, pervasive red glow of a beer sign in a bar provides a visual representation of the anger all three characters feel over their loss of control. Subtle, dewy fog rolling in at night, punctuated by dimly lit decorative lights along the driveway, contextualizes the foggy moral ground on which Charlie is standing. Even Charlie’s ghost-like form lurking in the darkened background, illuminated by a passing sliver of light, speaks volumes of his character without saying a word of dialogue. Plus, Geoff Zanelli’s discordant score augments the atmosphere.
There’s a good bit of levity laced camp too – something Taylor is admirably not afraid to shy away from. It doesn’t take much to trigger Charlie. A rogue extinguished cigarette butt here, a snarky comment there. Taylor relishes dipping into his villain’s subconscious, whether that be through the character’s fantasy of bashing Scott’s obnoxious bestie Mike (Joseph Sikora) with a wine bottle at the Thanksgiving table, or the reality of him quietly seething looking at replaced artwork, or through a close-up on the fake grin plastered across Quaid’s face when he’s in pretend-gregarious-nice-guy-mode. The broken, calloused psyche of a man pushed to the edge bubbles beneath his calculated exterior. Quaid plays everything to the hilt as the resident bad guy.
That said, in the third act, the situational shenanigans get skeevy rather than scary. We’re forced to shoulder highly ludicrous twists and turns that stretch credulity and force the building momentum to come rolling downhill fast. The inevitable timing of the arrival of Scott’s temptress turns Annie – who thus far had shown agency – into an outdated trope of a stereotypical jealous female and a lazy tool for two male protagonist arcs. This sentiment is understandable as a characteristic of the 90’s films providing inspiration. But it’s a relic of the past in need of updating.
If you’re willing to go along with it, and you’re in the company of an audience of a similar mindset, there’s fun and entertainment to be had here. This break-in thriller might just break you down.
THE INTRUDER opens on May 3.