As Avengers: Endgame continues to rewrite the box office record book, many of the other tentpole films of the summer are trying to keep their distance. In response, studios usually deal with such a behemoth of a movie by offering counter programming. This is where The Intruder comes in, here to save you from Avengers fatigue even though I don’t believe anyone asked for this film specifically. Sony has released the film in May, a gutsy call since the movie hasn’t rid itself of the stench of a film more likely to be released in January.
The film stars Michael Ealy and Meagan Goode as a young, rich couple in San Francisco looking to buy a home to grow their family. They eventually find a home that seems perfect, but is owned by the possibly unhinged Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid). Charlie is introduced to us while manically shooting down a deer. In his interactions with Scott (Ealy) and Annie (Goode), Charlie displays all the signs of a sociopath, which puts Scott on edge but Annie only sees him as a sweet old man. Charlie claims he plans to sell the house before moving to Florida to live with his daughter. Scott reluctantly buys the house, but is distraught when he sees Charlie showing up to the house over and over again; I guess that trip to Florida is on hold.
The most disappointing thing about The Intruder is how quickly multiple key thoughts become apparent. For starters, Charlie’s characterization leaves no suspense towards his true intentions towards Scott, and most importantly Annie. Even if you fail to guess a few details, Charlie’s story is pretty much what you’d expect after the first 6 minutes of the film. In addition, and an extension of point 1, the acting in the film is mightily dragging a tired plot. Deranged individual disrupts a domestic ecosystem, like you’ve always seen it before! There are no beats here that aren’t easily found on the Lifetime channel, or one of the dozens of Netflix’s Saturday-Night-Thrillers. Or, if you want to see this genre portrayed in a better crafted light, there’s always Fatal Attraction (1987) or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992).
This is all to say that for genre that is so ubiquitous and is in desperate need for some fresh ideas, The Intruder somehow feels too predictable for a genre that is already predictable. What keeps us awake through it all is Quaid’s committed, tic-filled performance as well as some moments of admittantly solid direction from Deon Taylor. Quaid, however, is the selling point here – he balances a welcoming warmth with authentic insecurities and a menacing violence, all while refraining from chewing the scenery. It’s not a subtle performance, but it is understated when compared to other villains of this sub-genre.
Michael Ealy is being outshined here by Quaid, but his performance as Scott is empathetic given the crazy situation he finds himself in. Who doesn’t come off so well is Meagan Goode; she’s charming and sweet, but the character of Annie is written to be so damn dumb that I can imagine that many of her scenes will be met with groans from the audience (as was the case in my theater).
Goode deserves better, and so do we. If you want to do a genuine character study, there’s one to be had, but the film instead chooses to paint caricatures. The film teases how the animosity between Scott and Charlie is motivated partially by a difference in culture; Charlie loves guns, Scott hates them. Charlie also wears a lot of red hats, which is so on the nose it’s not even worth an eye roll. If a complex character study wasn’t the goal, then choosing to simply thrill the audience would be a worthy compromise too, but the film falls flat there too. While the production is solid, the film is too timid to really excite anyone. We either needed a smarter script, or a desire to go full bat-shit insane; the film does neither, thus pleases no one.
It’s easy to dismiss such complaints because it’s “only” a B movie thriller that clearly has no great aspirations. But any genre you can think of likely became popular due to multiple seminal films that were genuine hits with audiences, and we only see some of those genres as cheap and tacky now because the market was watered down with lame copycats. So let’s buck the trend and aim higher; just because you’re a low budget film in the middle of summer doesn’t mean your standards should be so low.