The disturbing beauty of the home as a setting is that it’s where we’re potentially our most lethal, and also our most vulnerable – making for a potent cocktail of motivations on the part of both victim and aggressor. Home is where we’re most comfortable and relaxed, but it’s also our last refuge. It’s where we reside with our loved ones – for whom we would do anything – and it’s also where the collective minutiae of our lives are stored. When our home’s threatened, we exhibit unexpected behaviours, but to an outsider, it’s the perceived vulnerability that lulls a would-be attacker into a false sense of security.
The 1967 Terence Young film Wait Until Dark is perhaps the best example of the use of perceived vulnerability in a home invasion tale – specifically because the attackers in this case plot their crime based on the fact that their intended victim happens to be a blind woman. Many home invasion movies that centre around a perceived vulnerability do so – like Home Alone – by having the attackers expect the home to be empty, before discovering an occupant that they assume to be particularly vulnerable; for example, the agoraphobic lead in 2015’s Intruders, the single mother of a diabetic daughter in 2002’s Panic Room, and the blind, grieving father in 2016’s Don’t Breathe.
Wait Until Dark sees a group of male criminals specifically plot against a woman, however, knowing that they can play upon the fact that she cannot see them. Having accidentally come into possession of a doll containing smuggled drugs, the blind woman becomes the target of a gang seeking to take back that doll – and they spend a great deal of time trying to ‘con’ her, by pretending to be different people. Eventually, in a plot twist that has been re-visited many times in the years since, the woman levels the playing field by plunging her attackers into darkness.
Moving one step further, it is, perhaps, not too far of a stretch to suggest that the notion of perceived vulnerability explains why the use of home invasion as a movie premise has traditionally seemed to disproportionately place women in the role of the victim, with men as the aggressor. A variation of this concept is the attack upon the family unit, which brings into focus themes of masculinity, as well as violation.
Straw Dogs – made in 1971, and remade in 2011 – centres on this, with the husband of a victimized couple feeling increasingly emasculated by those around him, until he’s forced to respond with violence in defence of his territory. Funny Games, which was originally made in 1997, and remade in 2008, works by challenging traditional, stereotypical expectations of masculinity – as a family of three comes under attack from male home invaders and the son and father respond to this aggression very differently. By contrast, there’s a home invasion scenario at the heart of 2000’s Unbreakable, by M. Night Shyamalan, which sees a woman brutally victimized after a man arrives on the doorstep, tells her husband he “likes” their house, kills him, and forces his way in.