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When you first learned about Deon Taylor’s The Intruder, you likely searched your brain for a second and thought, “Wait… It this a remake? Haven’t they made this movie before?” While no, this isn’t a remake, it might as well be one because yes, you’ve seen something like this, except you remember it being done better.
The movie follows a set up that's classic in the horror genre: a young couple moves into a new home and are disrupted by something unexpected that terrorizes their lives. This time, the pair is Annie and Scott (played by Meagan Good and Michael Ealy), who splurge on a beautiful house in Napa Valley to get away from San Francisco city life. The complication to their happy life is Dennis Quaid’s Charlie Peck, who sells them the house and then keeps dropping by unannounced as he struggles to let go of the property.
Here’s where the first problem in The Intruder arises: it’s so painfully obvious how creepy this guy is. We know he’s going to be the villain… we already have our suspicions. So there’s one thrill out the window already. Scott even writes him off immediately when he sees all the shotguns in the house. The only thing that keeps The Intruder going is Annie’s effort to have empathy for him. However, today’s audiences are too savvy, so watching a female characterization lean into foolish trust for a clearly problematic character for almost two hours purely just for our entertainment doesn’t work like the movie wants it to.
Dennis Quaid is trying real hard in The Intruder to be Jack Nicholson from The Shining but there’s a problem… this screenplay is nowhere near as clever as a Stephen King novel, so Quaid doesn’t have much to work with. When he’s creepy, it’s not the kind were somehow intrigued by, it’s the kind you swat away with a deliberate lack of eye contact and quickly move on. The movie could have been five minutes long if common sense was involved, so unfortunately, Quaid misses his chance at a good villainous performance.
Michael Ealy saves this movie. He adds the comedic balance and (a bit of) common sense that makes this movie kind of fun. If each of the actors took all their lines seriously the whole time, it would be much worse. In every one of his scenes, Ealy adds a bit to it. It helps that he's the only grounded character in the film. He even may convince you of a powerful message somewhere in there about gun control or standing up for yourself. That seems ambitious, though.
I will say this about The Intruder, I laughed a lot… more than most recent comedies I’ve seen. So many of the scenes are incredibly awkward. The conversations and big “tension” moments are just ridiculous and work much better comedically then they do with building suspense. At one point toward the middle of the movie when Charlie rolls up to the house yet again, it has a similar beat in sitcoms where a character like Kramer from Seinfeld might walk into a scene, because the audience is being conditioned to chuckle at the continued exchanges.
There’s one scene where Charlie visits the house once the couple have started to settle in where he gets upset over his old tapestry not being on the wall. I’m not joking, that’s the big first scary moment. There’s even tacky “suspenseful” music in the background and everything – here and throughout the entire movie. It’s the kind that’s reminiscent of the music that comes free with a video editing software.
The Intruder does have something going for it that I’ve witnessed in few audiences: engagement. The movie leans into film operating as a spectator sport. In a sea of strangers, you might hear quips about the characters’ decisions, and as the film hits the third act, this engagement only grows. It can be so infuriating as the tension builds that moviegoers are ganging up against the events of the movie – though most comments may to be the effect of, “Wow, that was dumb.” The Intruder actually knows we are smarter than what we see on screen, so it actually plays to that.
This only works to a fault because it’s never great news when the audience is one step ahead of a thriller. I like The Intruder much more as a comedy. Invite all your friends, grab some drinks and you’ll have a blast. Because if you’re looking for the smart, intriguing thriller the movie is marketed as, it’s flimsy, predictable and uninspired.