Studio: Entertainment One
Director: Adam Schindler
Writer: T.J. Cimfel, David White
Producer: Steven Schneider, Jeff Rice, Lati Grobman, Erik Olsen
Stars: Beth Riesgraf, Martin Starr, Jack Kesy, Rory Culkin, Joshua Mikel, Leticia Jimenez, Timothy T. McKinney
An agoraphobic woman turns the tables on a group of thieves attempting to rob her house.
NOTE: "Intruders" was previously titled "Shut In."
Eclipsed in awareness by the similarly-summarized and mainstream-marketed “Devil’s Due” (review here), smaller indie effort “Delivery: The Beast Within” (review here) was an exceptional “found footage” demonic pregnancy chiller and one of my favorite films of that release year. So with “Delivery” director Brian Netto taking up the task of executive producing “Delivery” co-writer Adam Schindler’s directorial debut, I went into the duo’s follow-up feature “Intruders” with perhaps higher than usual expectations. It wasn’t long into the opening half hour when worry set in that Schindler and Netto might have traded creativity for convention in crafting ho-hum home invasion horror.
Already having it hard due to her inability to step outside the front door, agoraphobe Anna Rook is hit even harder when the live-in brother she cares for succumbs to cancer, leaving Anna alone in their creepily cavernous Louisiana home. Three thieves catch wind of Anna hoarding a big bag of cold cash and, wrongly assuming Anna is attending her brother’s funeral, break into the house to take it. Anna now finds herself trapped by this trio as well as her phobia. With escape not an option, Anna must battle back against the intruders.
Watching the pieces present themselves predictably, I mentally mouthed “uh oh” as the premise took shape. Expository dialogue like one thief referring to another as “baby brother” to identify their relationship was contrived. One robber was a powder keg sociopath while a second was a hesitant coward, a staple of movie crime teams. Identifying that weak link, Anna began exploiting his uncertainty, appealing to a separate sensibility that he was “not like the others” so as to hopefully acquire an insider ally. And although large, the setting was nowhere near cavernous enough to justify 90 minutes of an extended cat and mouse game. How long was the pace planning on drawing out this seemingly simple prey against her predators tale? With slumped shoulders and a frown, I prepared for passing off “Intruders” as a seen-before retread of a one-trick plot populated by clichéd characters.
Then, after that fading glimmer of hope that the film might yet have an unforeseen card left to play readies itself for extinguishing, it happens. When Anna turns the tables on her tormenters in unexpected fashion, “Intruders” turns a corner that gives it intriguing new life as a horrific suspense thriller. Of course we know that appearances are deceiving and that stalker and stalked roles are fated to be flipped. But the sinister surprise Anna has in store is something no one sees coming.
“Intruders” doesn’t expend excessive time turning Anna into a cheer-worthy heroine. This is actress Beth Riesgraf’s show to win or lose, and her performance is a definitive victory. When called for by the moment, Anna is equal parts wicked and wimpy, sadistic and sympathetic, or evil and emotional. Riesgraf, a doppelganger for Kate Hudson if ever there was one, folds each layer into a believably complex personality that frightens and fascinates while also fostering a friendly familiarity.
However, there comes a point in the movie’s midsection where the screenplay forgets that Anna’s arc is the heart, soul, and centerpiece. Anna actually disappears completely for a fair portion of the runtime, stranding “Intruders” to focus on her would-be assailants fighting to find their way out. That beat sags without Riesgraf contributing directly to the mix, although the actors featured instead contribute greatly to keeping the pulse beat pounding.
Playing against type, Martin Starr’s usually comedic persona works well at giving his coldblooded killer an even more unsettling streak of serial killer psychosis. Rory Culkin’s Meals on Wheels deliveryman caught up in the chaos is terrifically balanced as a potentially duplicitous misfit with a cute crush on Anna that might be masking intentions of betrayal.
Although the early twist introduces a mystery that keeps suspense chugging strong for a while, tension deflates towards the home stretch when that secret is solved and the revelation turns out to be not quite as clever as the buildup seems to promise. Maybe that is a failure of renewed expectations for the “Delivery” team to deliver a top-notch experience. But with scenes such as a will she or won’t she moment when a clueless visitor arrives at the door, an overdone trope in secretly-held-against-one’s-will movies, “Intruders” loses some traction by playing certain setups too safe.
Yet in addition to an outstanding cast, Eric Leach’s rich cinematography, James Wiley Fowler’s moody production design, and Frederik Wiedmann’s exceptionally atmospheric score elevate Adam Schindler’s first feature into a darkly creepy debut. Regardless of whether the climax sticks its landing with satisfaction, “Intruders” makes up points as an original spin on the home invasion theme, functioning better than most for delivering home alone on a late night chills.
Review Score: 75