Why We Love Home Invasion Movies So Much


Released in the same year as The Keeping Room, John Wick – directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and written by Derek Kolstad – takes the home invasion premise and turns it into something that’s almost the opposite of The Keeping Room – a tale in which a home invasion is the cause of male violence and aggression, as opposed to being the initial manifestation of the same.

The title character – while having a violent history – is now living a life that is peaceful and calm, until he’s the victim of a home invasion. During the attack, his favourite car is stolen and his dog is murdered – it having been a parting gift from Wick’s dying wife. Such violations are enough for him to respond by returning to ‘work’ – meaning, his life as a highly skilled assassin. Though the result of the home invasion is the opposite of that depicted in The Keeping Room – the theme of violation of the status quo is essentially the same.

With the theme of violation, though, we also see the incorporation of notions of privacy and trust. These are two complimentary themes and, when employed within the context of violation, they go hand-in-hand with difficult storylines, and potential horror. Sam Miller’s 2014 film No Good Deed, for example, sees a woman choose to trust a man who comes to her door asking for assistance, but soon learns – once he’s inside – that he’s actually a sadistic killer.

The tale plays out against the trust issues she’s experiencing within her own marriage, however, and so she comes to experience emotional, spatial, and social violation within a short space of time. From the same year, Ruba Nadda’s October Gale sees a doctor, alone at her island home, find an injured man washed up on her shore. In the process of assisting him, she finds her privacy, trust, and space violated, as her grief for her recently deceased husband is laid bare, while the young man’s assailant relentlessly pursues them through her house and land.

It’s the concept of the violation of privacy and trust that can most readily open up the home invasion premise to other genres, though. Ben Stiller’s 1996 film The Cable Guy is an incredibly dark comedy about a man posing as a cable installer who stalks his customers. When a newly single man crosses paths with him and assumes he can use and discard the cable guy, he finds his privacy being slowly eroded until his home is invaded, with dire consequences. A lighter comedic approach to the home invasion premise is seen in the 1990 Chris Columbus film Home Alone, during which a young boy experiences a breach in the trust he has with his family, and is accidentally left to his own devices over the Christmas period. He then finds himself ‘coming of age,’ as he’s forced into a situation where he must defend the family home against two burglars.

Home Alone is a unique application of the home invasion premise in that it uses the theme for comedic purposes, while also connecting the narrative to the much darker, dramatic fear of others seeking to take advantage of our perceived vulnerabilities. In the film, the burglars believe the house to be empty, prompting their attack, but when they realize it’s occupied by a young boy who’s alone, they assume they’ll be able to intimidate and overpower him. The comedy is derived from the burglars discovering they are very wrong and it’s unique because these concepts are usually found in thrillers and horror.

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