Sleight of hand tends to work best when you don’t move your hands a lot. You know, like moving them slightly. Penn & Teller wouldn’t be the sentient meatball/mute noodle duo in pinstripes of today if they kept slapping people in the face to hide a rubber ball in their pocket without anyone looking. Misdirection is an art, and like any discipline, you can spend your life studying it, or you can watch a bunch of YouTube videos, grab a canvas, and see what happens after a six-pack of spritzers. Intruder opted for the latter.
Intruder is the third feature-length directorial effort and second feature-length writing credit of Travis Zariwny. Best known for directing this year’s remake of Cabin Fever, which adroitly caters to fans of both flesh-eating bacteria and prostate play, a quick scan of his IMDB page lets you know he’s the kind of guy who probably owns an FBI hat (oh wait, he totally does). In an age where most of the inventive horror finds footing in independents and major studio blockbusters can falter completely à la The Conjuring 2, throwing your chips in with the lil’ scrapper is a pragmatic move by audiences and investors alike. With this daggone little caveat out of the way, it’s also useful to point out not everyone deserves to get picked up from the minor league, and some should remain there forever to drink AllSport and ride a bus to Fort Wayne, IN.
There’s nothing explicitly wrong with Intruder. The film’s about a woman being watched by a guy in her house, and she doesn’t know he’s there. The framing’s fine, the angles are fine, the shots are fine. Zariwny’s CV in production design and the camera/electrical department back up the technical execution. What’s wrong is Zariwny, like an estranged father and his disinterested children, has a distant relationship with the subject matter. He knows what a thriller is and can give you said thriller, just not one that actually thrills you.
This movie is an hour and a half of beat tropes. Imagine filmmaking as a line for a Qdoba burrito (What are you going to love at Qdoba?) and the creative choices are coagulated piles of fatigued edible-ish things bronzing under heat lamps. Scared suburban white lady alone in a dark house? Ladle it on. An unseen reflection of the killer in a burst of lightning? Need a protein. Five hundred million unattended whistling tea kettles? Is that extra? No? Great, all of them. For a genre that relies on surprise, there is absolutely nothing surprising here aside from how much I wanted everyone to die.
And now we get to the characters. Jesus. Everyone on this roster save for Moby is the type of person who lists their height on Tinder and interests ranging from “bourbon” to “adventures.” Bryce. Jennifer. Tanner. Katie. Whatever. Take your pick. None of them matter, and you’re going to figure out who’s the weirdo in like 15 minutes. The important thing here is Moby. Sweet, sweet Moby and his character’s inability to gauge personal space. When I was a lil’ 12-year-old chubster on the swim team getting pumped for my relays, I’d sit on the bench, head down, earbuds in, the aural adrenaline of “South Side” coursing through my ears. I have a lot to atone for in my life. I will not atone for that.
If you’re a fan of the genre, Intruder will scratch an itch. There’s nothing new here, nothing reinvented, but if you want to watch a blonde lady make a million flustered faces at her shitheel boyfriend on a business trip, go to town. And if you get anxiety about intruders after watching this, I hope there’s someone in your closet right now.