Now this is a very welcome surprise. I was expecting The Intruder to be a good enough film based on the trailer, but boy was I not expecting it to be so damn good at just being what it is. It really isn’t often that we get this sort of no-frills, no higher concept thrillers anymore, and when we do they tend to be hampered by a lack of ambition or technical skill to elevate to the best of their form. But The Intruder is such a viscerally disturbing experience that it’s impossible not to appreciate how hard everyone involved is swinging for the fences. In other words, this is very impressive filmmaking.
The premise is very simple: Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) are a young married couple looking to buy a home outside the city, and they find Annie’s dream home up for sale by Charlie (Dennis Quaid). The pair purchase the home and send Charlie on his way, but Charlie never quite seems to leave, popping up on the property and offering further excuses as to why he hasn’t yet left town. As Charlie’s appearances become more frequent and more noticeably unhinged, Scott starts to worry for his and Annie’s safety.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’re well aware of how this is going to escalate, but other than some revelations regarding Charlie’s background, The Intruder is whole-heartedly committed to remaining as grounded as its premise suggests. Of course, in less capable hands, David Loughery’s simple screenplay would come across as somewhat trite, but director Deon Taylor demonstrates himself to be a master of slow-burning, incrementally-ratcheting tension. As the camera trains the audience on the layout of the estate and the nuances of Charlie’s personal triggers, the attention to detail is subtle and pointed, so we’re always primed for moments of heightened emotion because all the narrative and staging groundwork has been laid beforehand without having to beat us over the head with it. Particularly impressive is the film’s ethos toward jump-scares, which more often rely on light revealing disturbing secrets immobile in the shadows rather than using fast motion and instrumental cues to provoke a startled response. This is nail-biting intensity made manifest, and it’s often achieved with little more than a disgruntled stare and a non-stationary light source.
This is only enhanced by the trio of lead performances. Ealy plays Scott as something of a paranoid asshole, suspicious of others because he flirts with other women behind his wife’s back. This helps to explain Annie’s dismissal of his uncomfortable attitude toward Charlie, yet Good’s take on Annie is as someone so committed to seeing the good in people that it borders on naivete, making for an engaging push and pull between Scott's and Annie's conflicting worldviews. Ultimately, this is a narrative about strengthening their marriage through adversity, but the show is very much stolen by Quaid’s role as the film’s villain. Charlie’s uncomfortably forced smiles barely contain a neurotic obsession with the sanctity of his property, and signifiers such as an obsession with guns and a constantly present red baseball cap are none-too-subtle indicators of the archetype this character is built upon. This is Quaid leaning hard into disturbing psychopathy, and some of his character choices perhaps verge on too disturbing, particularly in the third act, yet this is the performance that justifies the ticket price.
This is all to say that The Intruder is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a particularly good movie to watch with a crowd, as the reactions the film provokes are intense and well-earned, and that final shot is something to keep you talking as you exit the theater. Sometimes all a film has to do to achieve greatness is to be a prime exercise of its genre. The Intruder unquestionably earns that great distinction.