The Intruder (2019)

MAY 3, 2019


A few years back, Screen Gems was making some decent money with a series of annual (September releases, usually) thrillers that cast black actors in the roles that would have been played by white actors in the 90s films they often emulated. None of them were particularly great, but they served as decent time-killers and offered some more grounded thrills before the more elaborate horror movies came along to cash in on the Halloween season. But after 2016's When The Bough Breaks failed to hit the same level of grosses as its predecessors, they took a couple years off, and only came back now with The Intruder, which picks up where the "series" left off - for better and - alas mostly - worse.

Michael Ealy (who was the villain in one of their other ones) and Meagan Good are a San Francisco couple who decide to buy a house in Napa Valley so they can start a family and let those children play outside. For reasons we're not privy to, they entertain no other options and zero in on a house owned by Charlie (Dennis Quaid), who has refused other offers because he didn't like the people who wanted to buy it. But he has a "good feeling" about these folks and sells it to them, only to keep showing up as if he still owns it. At first he's just helping them mow the lawn and reminding them when to tend the garden (it's a huge estate), but then Scott (Ealy) starts finding him to be a creepy nuisance, while Annie (Good) seems to enjoy his company and feels bad for him. Guess who is right about him?

I mean, even if the trailer didn't give away everything, you'll know he's a psycho before they even make an offer on the place, so in this current climate it feels like a huge step back to have Good's character spend so much of the movie oblivious to Charlie's nature. Had the roles been switched, allowing Scott to bond with Charlie as a sort of father figure while Annie was suspicious, maybe it would have gone down easier, but the movie's practically over by the time she finally realizes that Charlie's insane. And it's not helped by the episodic nature of the plot: Scott goes to work or something (he commutes back to San Fran every day - it's a two hour drive at rush hour), then Charlie shows up with some food or to offer a hand with the Christmas lights or something, and Annie lets him in, never once questioning why Charlie is still hanging around for TWO MONTHS (at least) after they bought the house from him. Scott comes home and says "I don't like that guy, I don't want him here" and she seemingly agrees, only for the cycle to repeat again the next day or week or whatever.

So you're just waiting for her to finally catch on so the fun stuff can really begin, and the limited cast keeps it from ever coming to life before that point. There are only two other people of note in the film: Scott's business partner Mike, and Mike's wife, who stop over every now and then. The wife disappears without fanfare, but Mike is tasked with "doing some digging" and discovers Charlie's past, so you know he's a goner. Unfortunately he's the only obstacle - the police are a non-entity, there's a brief subplot about Scott having a wandering eye that goes nowhere, and we barely even see him at work. Part of the fun of the movies that this one is ripping off (Unlawful Entry and Pacific Heights seem to be very much on the mind of the screenwriter) is seeing the villain make the heroes' lives fall apart, but other than running Scott off the road while jogging (resulting in the vaguest injuries I can recall seeing in a major film - he seems to just be... kind of upset by getting run over?) Charlie can't be bothered to do much beyond kind of annoy them.

Even his backstory is bland - turns out he made some bad business deals and owes a lot of money, which is why he had to sell the house (which his great grandfather built and is the only one he ever lived in, which is why he's so attached to it). We see that he has two kids but we only briefly meet one of them, who confirms to Scott what he already knows (that Charlie's insane), in a scene that feels like it should be a big reveal but comes off more as a reminder for audience members who might not have been paying attention. But at least she has a reason to be offering up this information, because Scott called and asked - a big difference from when he's first tipped off in a coffee shop, where a guy in line who we've never seen before basically says "Hey you just bought Charlie's place huh? Isn't it great? Charlie's got secrets and probably killed his wife there. OK, see ya!" I mean I'm paraphrasing but that's 90% the gist of it, and then the guy disappears - we never see him again. It's the clunkiest and most shoehorned scene I've seen in recent memory; it's so out of place that it doesn't even surprise me that as of this writing his character isn't even on the film's IMDb page.

Ultimately there are only two reasons to watch the movie, with one being obvious: Quaid's performance. He doesn't play too many villains, and you can tell he's stoked about the opportunity - every now and then we get to see him on his own, where he practices smiling in the mirror and talks to himself, and I couldn't help but wish the movie was entirely from his perspective instead of the forgettable main couple (whose occasional marital problems never seem to extend into the following scene; much like their thoughts on Charlie, it's like a reset button gets pressed every time they go to sleep). It's only in the last 20 minutes that he really gets to cut loose, but it's great - he even pulls a couple Michael Myers moves, appearing/disappearing behind Annie like Michael did behind, er, Annie in the original, and also slowly lowering himself from a hiding spot above like in H20. The man's in his 60s, but he looks great (he's shirtless a few times, ladies!) and chews the scenery selectively, making it count when he does.

The other may have been unintentional, but let's pretend it wasn't for their sake. As explained, the movie is about an unhinged man, ravaged by bad business decisions, who fully snaps when a black man takes over the house he wants for himself - and he wears a red ball cap for good measure. A bit of a reach perhaps, but I was looking for anything to make the movie more interesting until it got to the inevitable showdown, where at least there was a chance Charlie would kill Scott, or inadvertently destroy the house and kill himself, or maybe Annie might finally do something besides offer Charlie some wine (seriously, between the three characters we see like ten bottles get consumed over the course of the movie). But until then, Quaid's tics and the amusing idea that the filmmakers were taking a few shots at 45 were the only life the movie really had.

I didn't bother to look at the credits beforehand, and there weren't any up front, so it wasn't until the movie was over that I discovered it was directed by Deon Taylor, who also "blessed" us with Chain Letter and Meet the Blacks, aka two of the lousiest movies I've ever suffered through (I even dubbed the latter one of the worst movies to ever play in wide theatrical release; not even sure if it's hyperbole). This is at least an improvement on those goddamn things, because it's at least mostly competent (though he still seems to believe smooth editing is for chumps; there are any number of occasions where there's a cut and the characters are clearly in different spots/positions than they were in the previous shot), but this guy is clearly not on my wavelength. A movie that holds my interest only because I am waiting to see the stuff I was promised in the trailer (namely, Quaid finally cutting loose and Good finally being less dim) is not a particularly valid use of my time.

What say you?


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