It’s one thing to bill your housebound thriller as “You’re Next meets Panic Room,” but to deliver on such an excitable description is a whole other ballgame.
Adam Schindler’s Intruders (originally titled Shut In) is an early bright spot for horror fans in 2016, thanks to a screenplay penned by T.J. Cimfel and David White that twists and turns with hints of early Shyamalan. It certainly mixes the brutality of You’re Next with the tension of Panic Room, and does so while blending themes of Agoraphobia, trap-making, and good versus evil. Secrets are kept while blood is spilled, and a star is made out of the film’s damsel in (momentary) distress, Beth Riesgraf. Opening this Pandora’s Box is a complete joy, even with a typically doomed January release date!
Riesgraf stars as Anna, a distraught sister who just watched her brother die from pancreatic cancer. She wants to attend his funeral, but her fear of leaving their childhood house keeps her home during the ceremony. Already feeling guilty, Anna’s day gets worse when a group of robbers (Martin Starr/Joshua Mikel/Jack Kesy) show up to steal a large sum of money now left in her name. The criminals assume they’re walking into an empty house, but find Anna sitting there, unable to bring herself outdoors. Sounds like the world’s easiest heist, right? One might assume, until Anna turns the tables in unexpected fashion…
Intruders is a living game of Mouse Trap, as Anna makes use of collapsible furnishings and secret doorways that only she can control. Given how stacked the odds are against Anna, Cimfel and White do an impressive job of making sure her retaliation is believable, but also ferocious. Cunning mystique and gut-instincts are what keep her alive, not some hidden ninja training or unbelievable physical prowess. Anna’s simple foes are outsmarted, fair and square. The logic of Intruders is something to appreciate in an age where most horror thrillers give up on cohesion in favor of a few graphic kills, and tensions comes at an enjoyable premium. Each twist is an appeasing treat, only gaining momentum as the curtain pulls farther and farther back.
As we fall deeper and deeper into the maze-like house’s deadly trappings, Intruders reveals itself to be a movie with layers. Anna’s Agoraphobia treats the illness with a revealing honesty, as she can’t escape her captor’s clutches even with a wide-open door and bright freedom in front of her. Kesy’s character walks to the opening, perplexed, and simply shuts the door in front of a paralyzed Anna. Not only is Anna caged inside a home with dangerous men, but she’s also mentally trapped by emotional scars that are revealed come a somewhat noticeable, but psychologically torturous finale. Physical and mental entrapments work hand in hand, as freedom is granted on both fronts (but to whom I’ll never tell!).
The fight between Anna and her intruding foes is played out by all actors rather well, none of whom become raging genre stereotypes. For once, Martin Starr gets to be the tough-guy renegade who can’t be trusted, and it’s a nice look for the usual geek (lumberjack beard and all). Joshua Mikel and Jack Kesy are brothers, which plays into a protective mentality for Kesy’s older protector, but their momentary hesitations are what keep their personalities genuine. Even Starr, for all his craziness, still shows signs of humanity in his crimes, and the team of miscreants gel in a way that never becomes goofy or cartoonish. Horror doesn’t have to be ridiculous – grounded realizations are sometimes the scariest perceptions of all.
Then again, it’s Beth Riesgraf who sends Intruders down a winding connection of chutes and ladders, embracing a vengeance that’s far from expected. It’s such a treat to watch her character change tones so swiftly, eluding to a wholly different watch from the simple invasion plot that’s first introduced. Riesgraf does far more than go through the motions as she lashes back with survival at stake, and her command of the situation becomes hypnotic with each surprise. Damn it’s hard to give praise when you’re holding so much back…
So yeah – I dug Intruders. It offers a genre hybrid with relentless substance, and does so through gripping, chilly tension. Too many twists can kill a film, but Adam Schindler’s direction ensures that each reveal is trickled out at this proper moment, in an effort to maximize pacing and suspense. The filmmaker makes proper use of the ideas writers T.J. Cimfel and David White dream up, and leads viewers into a deadly home with a basement full of secrets.
It might be more Panic Room than it is You’re Next, but however you describe it, January finally has its first VOD surprise – and it’s a bloody good one!