Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Orson Oblowitz
Writer: Corey Deshon
Producer: Julio Hallivis, Diego Hallivis
Stars: Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, Jonathan Howard, Zach Avery, Fairuza Balk, Carlo Rota, Joey Abril, Sebastian Sozzi
Four friends vacationing in a desert home end up targets of intruders connected to a murderous mystery.
“Trespassers” starts with two bangs. Three masked Mexican men with machetes pull up to a remote Mojave Desert home, abduct the two photojournalists who live there, and coldly execute the couple outside.
The owners’ unexpected absence explains why no one greets Sarah and Joseph when they arrive at the rental property. Recent heartbreak troubles Sarah and Joseph’s marriage, and they’re hopeful a getaway weekend might provide a reprieve.
Peace and tranquility aren’t on the table however. That’s because Sarah invited her longtime best friend Estelle to join them, and Estelle brought along her cocaine-fueled boyfriend Victor to annoy everyone with his abusive obnoxiousness.
The oddly timed arrival of an unidentified visitor pauses the private party. Claiming to be a neighbor in need of a tow truck, the visitor asks to come inside for a phone call. Sarah reluctantly relents, but the weird woman’s sketchy behavior causes the foursome to suspect she may have other intentions. When Victor decides to dig for the truth, he unknowingly starts rolling a snowball that turns into an avalanche involving the three masked men, a pair of police officers, and a torturous night for everyone involved.
You might not want to watch “Trespassers” because you’ve already seen “The Strangers” (review here) along with any number of imitators that have saturated the home invasion subgenre since. Disinterest due to disillusionment is a good reason to give it a pass.
Speaking as someone who has seen more of these movies than most filmgoers though, I will counter that “Trespassers” is better than your average home invasion thriller. I’d go as far as saying it’s among the best that indie horror has to offer.
Having premiered at FrightFest London in 2018 under the much cooler but slightly confused title “Hell Is Where the Home Is,” “Trespassers” makes its hay through engaging characterizations. Familiar personalities constitute the core quartet to a degree many might rightfully classify as cliché. But talent trumps stereotyping thanks to ace casting courtesy of Jessica Sherman.
Although he lands low on the roster, Jonathan Howard turns in a terrific performance as Victor. Howard plays a prototypical prick, yet he expertly embodies every tic, expression, and attitude I’ve ever seen in such abrasive a-holes in reality. Victor’s mood swings call for a melody of multiple notes and Howard perfectly portrays them all.
Corey Deshon’s well-stocked script of interpersonal angst, mystery, and action assigns Zach Avery and Janel Parrish with the thankless task of complicating their relationships by putting Joseph and Estelle in an affair with each other. It’s an overused contrivance writers really ought to put out to pasture. Avery and Parrish nevertheless sell their side story by being personable enough to read as real, which remains reflective of why performances such as Angela Trimbur’s as Sarah can connect with viewers. “Trespassers” earns the right to employ a few of these tropes by not leaning or lingering on any one of them longer than necessary. There’s enough going on within the group dynamic that drama and trauma carry intrigue before outside danger reenters the picture.
“Trespassers” also outdoes peers by having a multilayered plot that isn’t limited to masked men merely breaking into a house, forcing interchangeable occupants to survive various assaults for ninety minutes. The movie has a full hand to play, yet holds those cards close to its chest to keep tension grounded in uncertainty over the story’s sudden turns. Once Fairuza Balk registers the visitor as a wild card, an idea starts forming about what might happen next. Then “Trespassers” does something unanticipated to upend expectations with a declaration that nothing is off limits for the narrative.
Around the halfway point, the film starts flipping itself dizzy. Until that happens, “Trespassers” maintains a steady tone of uncomfortably escalating uneasiness. But the injection of Bond villain monologuing to tie every exposition thread together, fluctuating the timeline and house layout to space out beats, and several bits of bizarre behavior begin bobbling believability.
Luckily, the cast refuses to take their eyes off the ball and their collective commitment sustains a satisfying speed. Snappy editing, colorful cinematography, and Jonathan Snipes’ moody score sharpen edges so a clunky last half hour can’t sour the entire experience. Even when convincingness isn’t consistent, suspense always is, and there’s nothing more important for an entertaining take on home invasion thrills.
Review Score: 75