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After its peak in the early 90s, the psycho-from-hell thriller, typified by films such as Fatal Attraction, Single White Female and Pacific Heights, died a villain’s death at the box office, only rearing its head infrequently in the years since. In the late 00s, Sony’s genre label Screen Gems spotted a gap in the market and started pumping out variations on a cookie-cutter formula but with one key difference. Films such as Obsessed, No Good Deed, The Perfect Guy and When the Bough Breaks have been almost universally populated by actors of colour in strict opposition to the all-white thrillers that came before them.
But while they might have represented a step forward for diversity, the same can’t be said for quality, and rather than add anything new to tried and tired subgenre tropes, they have felt lazily recycled and, even worse, horribly sanitised. With limiting PG-13 ratings and scripts that have failed to recognise the streak of perversity that made the originals so much fun, they have often resembled cheap TV remakes, each as anonymous as the other.
Which makes the release of The Intruder, yet another glossy PG-13 melodrama from Screen Gems about a black couple tormented by an exterior evil, feel like an unexciting prospect, its beats easy to predict from a quick glance of its synopsis and its entertainment level easy to predict from the dross that’s come before. After closing a “big deal”, Scott (Michael Ealy) finally agrees with his wife Annie (Meagan Good) that a move to the countryside might be for the best. The pair discover an extravagant, secluded house that Annie immediately falls in love with and after agreeing on a deal with the owner Charlie (Dennis Quaid), they move in. But as they soon discover, Charlie isn’t quite ready to move out.
There’s an unavoidable stench of familiarity wafting through The Intruder, most pungent in the early stretch as some rather drab, perfunctory dialogue takes us through scenes we know all too well. The “business” chat is hilariously vague (“I knew you’d close the deal!”; “You’re the number one earner in the company!”) as is Annie’s job (she writes about “injustice and empowerment for women’s magazines” yet we never see her type a single word). But as the cogs speed up, something relatively miraculous happens: it actually starts to work. The pace is well modulated by director Deon Taylor (who was behind last year’s scrappy exploitation pic Traffik), the escalation of events is involving and tense and the central trio develops a strong, uneasy dynamic.
Good is likable, if stuck with an increasingly infuriating naive wife role, while Ealy fares better as the good guy than he did playing the villain, to unconvincing effect, in The Perfect Guy. But the film really belongs to Quaid, having enviable amounts of gonzo fun as the unhinged antagonist, dialling the menace up high when needed without going full ham by the end. He’s allowed some wild excesses, which, as mentioned, have been in short supply in these films of late, with one particular moment of frenzied licking causing vocal audience revulsion. Leering, sneering, crawling and groping his way through the film, it’s the kind of fearless yet measured performance that only really comes from an actor this late in his career, his vast experience providing him with both the courage to go big and the discipline to rein it in.
Screenwriter David Loughery also worked with Neil LaBute on the first Screen Gems domestic thriller, 2008’s underrated Lakeview Terrace, which saw Samuel L Jackson terrorise Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. It was similarly structured stuff but there was also an intriguingly insidious racial element with Jackson’s bitter cop infuriated that an interracial couple was living next door. Loughery doesn’t try quite so hard to embed anything as interesting here, but there’s a light throughline about challenged masculinity with a gun-toting “alpha” threatening a gun-averse “beta”, even if it’s slightly squandered in the finale, one that directly cribs from Sleeping with the Enemy.
But then that’s sort of the point of these films anyway, patch-working elements from the thrillers that wrote the rules back in the late 80s and early 90s and seeing if they still work. The Intruder isn’t bringing much that’s new to the table but what it does, it does well, and there’s something to admire about its stark efficiency, dragging us along with full force, even if we know exactly where we’re going.
Source: The Guardian
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