‘The Intruder’ Messes With Domestic Bliss Using B-Movie Clichés

The Intruder” joins the ongoing trend in genre movies of pitting a young city couple against a menacing, rural threat. There seems to be some kind of social message dashed around the script, but this one is all about the cheap thrills. By the third act everything spirals into a rather absurd chaos. But before all that it features an engaging B-movie premise, making use of the common nightmare of having to deal with a psycho who just won’t leave you alone.

Michael (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) are picture-perfect, married millennials. They make good money as part of the booming tech culture in San Francisco but Annie is desperate to move out into the country.  She wants to eventually have kids and doesn’t want to raise a family amid hectic city life. The couple soon comes across a gorgeous house in the Napa Valley belonging to a widower named Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid). Charlie is quite attached to the home but has decided to move in with his daughter in Florida. He asks for $3 million, the couple take it and soon move in, changing the interior décor around. But Charlie doesn’t leave and is soon mowing the lawn, popping up uninvited, offering to help hang Christmas lights and claiming to be fishing and hunting in the woods nearby. Michael is suspicious, but Annie assures him Charlie’s just a nice, lonely old man. Besides, they are having their own lingering issues, like Michael’s roving eye. But the more Charlie hangs around, the more hostile he seems towards any changes to the house. When it becomes obvious he isn’t going anywhere, Michael decides to get to the bottom of who their unruly neighbor really is.

During the first act of “The Intruder” it becomes apparent that director Deon Taylor and writer David Loughery have been taking notes from Jordan Peele. There’s a “Get Out” vibe in the early scenes of deceptive domestic bliss, with the obligatory shots of Michael and Annie driving out of the city and into the ominous, wooded spot where their new house is located. There’s also the interesting racial dynamic between Michael and Annie, who are black, and Charlie, who at times represents a white person from another generation resistant to change. He snickers at Michael for not being manly enough, and looks confused over the couple’s aversion to guns (“what’s wrong with guns?”). Dennis Quaid gives the film’s best performance, turning Charlie into a truly creepy personality. He has the perfect grin and fake friendliness of a guy with serious issues. When we first see Charlie suddenly mowing the lawn without being invited, there’s an authentic chill to the scene. The best shot in the whole movie is probably a nighttime scene where Michael goes out into the backyard after hearing noises and a brief flash of light reveals Charlie spying on him near a tree.

But once it derails into psycho thriller mode “The Intruder” just becomes another rehash. What begins as a creepy stalker popcorn flick spirals into a demented romp worthy of a grindhouse double bill. We even get the token friend, Mike (Joseph Sikora), who triggers Charlie by smoking on the property and putting his cigarette out on a sculpture. It’s not a spoiler to anyone who knows this genre to say this is the sure signal Mike will meet a bloody end. The story soon becomes a combo of weirdness and confusion. It’s obvious Charlie isn’t happy about letting his house go, but the film in two unintentionally hilarious shots suddenly makes it clear Charlie also wants Annie. Why? Yes she’s quite attractive but there’s no set-up for the surprise wave of lust. Much of the plot is reduced to Michael (along with the rest of us) frustrated over Annie not realizing Charlie’s a creeper. He’s waiting by the driveway with a rifle, obsesses over helping hang the Christmas lights, and shows up in the middle of the night with pizza when Michael suddenly (and conveniently) gets hit by a truck. Yet she still lets him in. What could possibly go wrong? Some of Taylor’s choices turn the movie into a dark comedy when it should be building trashy intensity. Scenes where Charlie spies on Annie in the shower or seems to smell her hair come across as goofy rather than terrifying. We also get a random side story tossed in involving Michael flirting with a co-worker. Maybe it’s meant to proposition that Charlie could indeed be a romantic threat. Of course this is one odd couple already, as Annie reveals during an argument that she and Michael went to therapy before getting married.

Viewers searching for an old-fashioned, B-movie showdown might enjoy the last act, which inevitably features the couple having to face Charlie in dark halls and backyards, as he prowls with his rifle and seeks to somehow make Annie his (although we’re not exactly sure what his plans for her are). Keep in mind “The Intruder” is rated PG-13, so you won’t see a bloodbath on par with “Straw Dogs.” We do get strange shots of Dennis Quaid appearing to slither across the floor and cell phones no one is around to answer in desperate moments. The very final shotgun blast is however designed to make people fist pump in the theater. “The Intruder” gives the creeps in its first chapters, then it turns into the kind of life crisis we’ve seen done better.

The Intruder” opens May 3 in theaters nationwide.