Friday, May 3, 2019

The Couple Trap: “The Intruder” a dopey, shout-at-the-screen thriller that’s kind of fun


The Intruder (2019)
102 min. 
Release Date: May 3, 2019 (Wide)

An ex-homeowner from hell wreaks havoc on a married couple who has just moved into his precious house in “The Intruder,” the latest entry in the boilerplate subgenre of “…from Hell” domestic thrillers. On one hand, it is a been-there-seen-that pastiche of 1990’s “Pacific Heights,” 1992’s “Unlawful Entry,” 2003’s “Cold Creek Manor” (which also starred Dennis Quaid as one-half of the terrorized couple), 2008’s “Lakeview Terrace,” and 2015’s “The Perfect Guy” (which also starred Michael Ealy as the Rebound from Hell), and then on the other, it is an entertainingly sleazy and dopey hoot. Director Deon Taylor (2018’s “Traffik”) and screenwriter David Loughery (2009’s “Obsessed” and the aforementioned “Lakeview Terrace”), both remaining in their comfort zone, approach this Lifetime-ready material on the most rudimentary level even in a post-"Get Out" world, but they do seem to recognize what kind of movie they set out to make. If one is willing to shut their brain off like its too-good-to-be-true married couple, “The Intruder” might be worthwhile for a Friday night with a preferably rowdy, liquored-up audience.

San Francisco advertising director Scott Russell (Michael Ealy) decides to finally give his wife, Annie (Meagan Good), what she wants: leave their chic penthouse and the hustle and bustle to settle down and eventually start a family. They find their $3.5 million dream home in the Napa Valley, and the estate called Foxglove (as in the poisonous plant) has been in the family for generations according to Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid), the former homeowner who introduces himself just moments after shooting a deer in front of the Russell couple. Charlie seems a little off, but he’s lost his wife to cancer two years ago and is set to move to Florida with his daughter. When the house turns out to be out of Scott and Annie’s price range, Charlie goes down in price, throws in the furniture and decor, and wants them to have it. Scott and Annie make the move, and once they settle in and make it their own, Charlie turns up one day to mow the lawn. Annie feels sorry for the widower, so she invites him for Thanksgiving dinner. As time goes by, Charlie keeps coming by the house unannounced, which makes Scott uncomfortable, and noticing changes to his house. Even though Charlie is supposed to be in Florida by now, Annie likes having a man around the house, or least she thinks she does until it takes her a while to discover that Charlie has more than a screw loose and isn’t ready to let go of his house.

As stock as its title, “The Intruder” is a commonplace but slick and watchable thriller designed to invite audiences to have a lively conversation with the screen. From the very beginning, we already know Charlie is a complete psychopath—a daydream of Charlie’s rage makes sure of that at Thanksgiving dinner—and will do whatever it takes to make Annie the new Mrs. Peck and move back into his house. Scott is the first to realize something isn’t right about Charlie, and his hotheaded best friend Mike (Joseph Sikora), who might as well have “Dead Meat” tattooed on his forehead, suspects Charlie burned the leather interior of his precious sports car with his own cigarette butt. Then there’s Annie, who is compassionate to a fault and more willing to give Charlie the benefit of the doubt than Scott by letting the seemingly harmless nutcase help her put up Christmas lights and inviting him inside for a bottle of wine when Scott is working late. Or, maybe she’s just oblivious and quite slow to catch on. Annie is so trusting, in fact, that she doesn’t even ask the right questions when Charlie shows up at her door with a pizza, somehow knowing that Scott is in the hospital for being clipped by a truck (who could that have been?).

Michael Ealy and Meagan Good are likable, attractive, and charismatic as Annie and Scott, and the camera loves them in close-ups. They seem to be so blissfully in love, christening their kitchen, although there is a hint of Scott having an affair in the past and his inability to not flirt with other women. Scott also has an anti-gun stance based on his brother being gunned down, which could have led to a more provocative blue state vs. red state conversation between him and "Bambi killer" Charlie but is presented solely as a throwaway detail. As for Annie, she tells Charlie that she freelances, writing empowerment pieces for a women’s magazine, but Annie is never once seen behind a laptop, only drinking a lot of red wine. Though Meagan Good looks like the kind of person with as much smarts as she does beauty, the viewer must accept that Annie has to play naïve because she has never seen a thriller before, and there would be no movie otherwise. Ealy and Good are earnest because they have to be when Dennis Quaid, on the other hand, is committed to dialing it up and being crazier than a shithouse rat, using his joker grin to creepy effect and somehow channeling two of Jack Nicholson's two most iconic roles in one movie. Quaid gets few chances to ever play a bad guy, but here as Charlie Peck, he is a menacing, over-the-top B-movie psycho who just won’t go away, and it is admittedly a blast to watch him go for it, particularly in an icky scene that requires him to lick another character.

Director Deon Taylor has fun placing Charlie where Scott and Annie won't notice him, like having him leer in the shadows while the couple has a passionate moment in front of the fireplace or revealing Charlie standing in the hallway with a flash of lightning. Once it all comes to a violent head in the climactic showdown in Foxglove and rises in tension, the film does deserve points for delivering upon the expectations of the type of movie Taylor is making. There is a twist, if it can even be called that, that's absurd but on par with a lurid thriller that isn’t Hitchcock or even Verhoeven. Make no mistake, “The Intruder” is not a good movie—its plot is a foregone conclusion with contrivances and plot holes that are glaring even in the moment—but it is bat-shit crazy in a crowd-pleasing way without trying to be more. As is, this is decent trash.

Grade: C +

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