By Jim Slotek
Admittedlly, the notion of a real-estate-based horror story seems utterly plausible, given the raw stress and price-tag that comes with buying a house these days.
And we’re told that the Napa Valley house that is the Mcguffin in the transparent and ham-handed stalker film The Intruder, was listed at $3.5 million - which is the scariest thing in this suspense-free experience.
Actually, we’re told too much, which is the movie’s main problem. The Intruder is the sort of thriller where the audience is in on pretty much everything from the beginning, and spends the rest of the movie waiting for the dolts onscreen to catch up. Given that this is a feature, it is mandatory that the non-psycho central characters take at least an hour to piece it all together – a recipe for frequent eye-rolling and face-palms.
In The Intruder, Meagan Good and Michael Ealy are Annie and Scott, San Francisco professionals (well, she’s a freelancer and he’s a fast-rising ad exec, so he’s the effective bread winner). For past domestic reasons that are explained later, she’s intent on them moving out into the country to start a family.
Scott, not so much. He’s dubious about Annie’s dream house, dreading the commute, and Charlie (Dennis Quaid, the tightly-wound, grinning guy selling them the place, introduces himself by firing a shot-gun practically past their ears to kill a deer that’s been eating his lovingly grown foliage.
Scott’s ready to leave right there. Later, Scott’s ready to leave when he hears the price. But Annie must have her way, and soon they’re moved in, stripping wallpaper, with Charlie ostensibly on his way to Florida.
Except he’s there the next day, mowing the lawn and disapproving of all the changes. This is where I’d call the police, or at least the mental health authorities.
But Annie has a soft spot for the lonely old widower, and even invites him to Thanksgiving dinner with Mike and Rachel (Joseph Sikora and Alvina August), their best friends from the city. Oh no, there’s a best friend who figures out the psycho’s game early! That never goes well.
Director Deon Taylor (Meet the Blacks) seems to go out of his way to bring even the slowest audience member up to speed a full lap ahead of the characters. At one point at dinner, Charlie fantasizes about crushing Mike’s skull with a wine bottle. At another, Charlie’s wandering eye is telegraphed when Annie’s back is turned, he turns his head, and we get a close-up of Annie’s butt. Subtle.
Given that this is a movie by a black director about a young African-American couple who eventually are in a life-and-death struggle (backed by audience cheers) with an enraged rural white guy, The Intruder is pointedly never about race. (Though, the scriptwriter, David Loughery, wrote a previous real-estate-triggered thriller, 2008’s Lakeview Terrace, that was.)
Quaid doesn’t show up as often as he used to, and has seldom played a villain. So, it’s not surprising that his is the character who seems to relish his screen time the most (opposite Annie and Scott, who are kind of generic, pretty city folk, verging on bland). As he’s aged, I notice when his famous grin turns grim, and the veins on his neck pulsate angrily, Quaid kind of looks like Mel Gibson.
The Intruder. Directed by Deon Taylor, written by David Loughery. Starring Meagan Good, Michael Ealy and Dennis Quaid. Opens wide, Friday, May 3.