High fantasy in film and TV is having a moment. Take the premise of the brutal home invasion thriller “The Intruder.” A creative director at a San Francisco advertising agency and a journalist who writes about social justice issues for women’s magazines have a cool $3 million-plus to drop on a palatial dream home in Napa Valley. It’s a stretch to suspend your disbelief that far, but buying the property does have a catch: The former owner just can’t seem to say goodbye. Swap the H in HGTV for “horror” and you’ve got “The Intruder.”
Directed by Deon Taylor with a cheeky sense of fun and deep knowledge of the genre, “The Intruder” is the kind of schlocky yet satisfying genre filmmaking that makes you jump and laugh at the same time. Starring Michael Ealy and Meagan Good as Scott and Annie, a couple of naive city mice making a go of country living, the film is a blend of sexy and scary with a nifty social metaphor to boot. Think of it like a reverse “Get Out,” where a young black couple battles the last gasp of white patriarchy that won’t go quietly into that good night. When Charlie (Dennis Quaid) bellows “get out of my house!” after his campaign of cajoling and creeping goes belly up, one can’t help but think of the rage expressed by the many who fear social and cultural change.
Like any good thriller, at least one character must possess almost a complete lack of self-preservation instincts. In “The Intruder,” that person is Annie, a character so open, compassionate and polite to Charlie you have to wonder if the woman has that no-fear gene. As baffling as she is, home invasion thrillers aren’t about realistic human behavior, and Annie’s indulging of Charlie is the fulcrum of the tale. It’s what keeps the story moving, and what keeps the audience screaming “don’t go in there!” from their seats.
Following the formula is part of the fun when watching thrillers, but “The Intruder” does have a few elements that make it stand out. One is cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who made his feature debut shooting 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” He brings a visual verve and dynamism, all Dutch angles and tricky mirror shots. This is supported with an edit by Melissa Kent that — there’s no other way to say it — absolutely rips.
But the real secret weapon of “The Intruder” is the intruder himself, played by Dennis Quaid in a completely unhinged performance of true lunacy. It’s going to be really hard to take Quaid seriously in the sentimental “A Dog’s Journey” in a couple of weeks after watching him go for broke as the rubber-faced villain Charlie. Quaid takes his performance inspiration from a pair of Jack Nicholson characters — he’s the Joker-meets-Jack Torrance from “The Shining,” grinning maniacally, eyes bugging out, exuding chaotic, creepy energy. It’s startlingly revelatory to watch Quaid tear into the role with such ferocity. He’s one intruder you’ll never want to invite in, but he’s a blast to watch from the safety of the movie theater.
Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: PG-13, for violence, terror, some sexuality, language and thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: Starts May 3 in general release