Film Review – The Intruder
Dennis Quaid is having a ball playing the villain of The Intruder (2019). It’s been said that the antagonist is sometimes more interesting than the hero, and because of that actors tend to play their characters far looser and with more creativity. A lot of the time the good guy has to play the straight counterpoint to the villain’s hijinks. Quaid takes this idea and runs with it with unrelenting joy. It’s as though director Deon Taylor and writer David Loughery simply provided Quaid a stage to do whatever the hell he wanted, and because of that his performance is a collection of weird facial tics, creepy rage, and absolute hilarity.
Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) are a young, married couple looking to move to the countryside to start a family. They find a nice, cozy home nestled in a wooded area in Napa Valley, CA. The house is everything they wanted: it’s one of those old, lived in homes where vines have grown up and down the side of the house and the driveway includes a long stretch of road lined by large trees. It’s a beautiful plot of land, and the owner of the home Charlie (Quaid) is all too eager to sell it to them.
That’s our first sign of trouble, isn’t it? Instead of buying the home through a real estate agency or some other legal third party, Scott and Annie decide to negotiate with Charlie directly. Charlie says that he plans to move to Florida to stay with his daughter, but strangely enough, he keeps showing up at the house unannounced. One time he offers to cut the grass, then he brings over food to share – soon he’s coming over for Thanksgiving dinner and offering to help Annie put up Christmas lights. For a guy who decided to sell his home, he doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic to leave it behind.
Scott’s growing suspicion of Charlie juxtaposed with Annie’s willingness to trust Charlie make for the central point of tension in The Intruder. Taylor and Loughery don’t try to subvert the tropes of this kind of thriller. There is no mistaking that Charlie is a lunatic, whose obsession over his home is taken to extreme levels. You may be asking yourself, “Why would this guy sell his house if he didn’t want to leave in the first place?” The narrative does make an effort to explain that, but in reality, none of it actually matters. The point is to see whether Scott can convince Annie that Charlie is up to no good, and for the both of them to survive before Charlie’s actions turn dangerous.
This is one of those “Yell At The Screen” type of movies, where characters are put in precarious situations and do the exact opposite of what they should, causing an audience to shout at the screen telling them to “Watch out, he’s right behind you!” Taylor’s direction does a nice job of building suspense. The sound design and cinematography (Daniel Pearl) make good use of the house, allowing us to hear every creak and moan of the wood, making us wonder if Charlie is inside stalking about. Jump scares are littered throughout, but the tension building earns those moments. There is a direct reference to a famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), but the execution is done well enough to give it its own identity. By the time all of Charlie’s secrets are revealed, Scott and Annie’s cozy home has turned into an all out nightmare.
I was surprised at how funny this was. There are sequences of pure terror, especially in the latter half, but a lot of the time this came off more as a comedy than a thriller. Scott and Annie’s reactions to Charlie’s odd behavior were both understandable and hilarious. It was also funny how Charlie seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. He can show up right behind Scott or Annie without making a single noise, like an apparition suddenly emerging out of thin air. It’s a tricky balance between scaring an audience and making them laugh, but Taylor manages to pull it off.
The Intruder is basically “the Dennis Quaid show,” and he delivers with a full tilt showcase. Just watch how he moves about a room; his mannerisms don’t look like they are coming from a rational human being. When he’s disturbed or upset, he scrunches his mouth as though he took a bite out of a lemon. He is both a psychopath and cartoon character. Notice how he practices putting on a fake smile all by himself, and how he writhes in pain with how difficult it is. Taylor amplifies Quaid’s physique, making him seem bigger and more menacing compared to Ealy and Good. Fitting him with a red hat and a devotion to firearms also adds an extra layer of nuance, perhaps representative of a certain section of Americana (I’ll let you draw the parallels there). All in all, Charlie is a villain in the full definition of the term, and Quaid doesn’t shy away from that fact. Thank goodness.