Welcome back to our series on home invasion movies. What’s that? You didn’t realize we were doing a series on that? Well, listen to our podcast more. That’s the best advice I’m going to give you throughout this whole review. I chose this one because I knew it had some twists and turns to it, and I felt like it would probably provide some interesting conversation about the genre as a whole. Check out our spoiler filled review below and see what you think. Be warned, the aforementioned twists and turns will be spoiled in detail. Bonus warning: the trailer also contains significant spoilers so if you want to stay blind (which you probably do on this one), then go watch it and come back. We’ll wait.
Reviewed by: Mark
Enter siblings Anna (Beth Riesgraf) and Conrad (Timothy McKinney). Conrad has full blown pancreatic cancer, and Anna has taken it upon herself to be his caretaker. When he dies (like four minutes into the movie) she decides to not attend his funeral. Turns out she’s agoraphobic, which is an incredibly stupid plot device. Thinking that she’ll be at her brother’s funeral, three local toughs invade her home in search for bags of money that she flaunted to the local food delivery boy, Dan (Rory Culkin).
The invading trio of Jack (JP Henson), Vance (Joshua Mikel), and Perry (Martin Starr) soon find that she’s still at home, capture her, and attempt to extract information about where she is hiding her funds. After a short scooby doo-esque chase scene she kills Vance and traps the others in her torture basement. Oh, did I not mention that? She has a torture basement with retractable stairs, a cctv system, a weird ass immaculately kept child’s bedroom, and secret passages a-go-go.
At some point during this chaos Dan shows up after Conrad’s funeral to check-in on his friend, Anna. He’s actually an honest and nice guy, but Anna is already in rip-tear-kill mode so she breaks his fingers and tosses him in the basement too. It’s a new, worse definition of being friend-zoned.
After killing Perry by braining him with a claw hammer the movie fumbles its way through her emotional backstory that is apparently supposed to endear her to us and excuse her behavior. She was diddled by her dad. So when he passed (aka when Conrad murdered him), her and Conrad took it upon themselves to torture and dismember the local community’s diddlers. It’s like Dexter with much less charm and intrigue. As the movie comes to a conclusion Anna shoots the final invader and allows Dan to leave before she burns her house down and wanders off, now apparently free of agoraphobia, presumably because the writers just straight up forgot that they gave her that character trait.
What the Movie Does Right
Depending on how you look at it, either casting or just overall performance. I found the performances of both Martin Starr and Rory Culkin to be extremely engaging. Not to brag, but I had “comedians doing horror things” as one of my fantasy draft items, and I’m definitely claiming credit for Martin Starr on that one. He’s sufficiently creepy (easily the skeeziest of the bunch), but maintains his dry sarcasm in a few scenes to add depth to his character. Rory puts together a great picture of a meek and confused kid who’s just trying to check up on his friend. Beth Reisgraf’s performance is good enough to carry the lead role in the film, but falls apart at times more likely due to the inconsistency of the script than her own acting talent.
The initial home invasion is actually a very well crafted series of scenes. Anna (or her brother) seems to be a bit of a hoarder so there are stacks of garbage strewn about her house. She hides from the trio as they look for her, and you get good some good exposure to set design that attempts to provide some backstory. You also get the initial introduction to the creepy basement when two of the invaders head down there to try and find her hiding spot.
The movie also really nails the turn. If you haven’t seen the trailer or heard anything about this movie, then when she sneaks out the back, fiddles with the hidden mechanism in the grandfather clock to retract the stairs in her already creepy basement you’re going to be seriously taken aback. If you don’t see it coming it’s a serious “holy shit” moment that is unique and quite literally stunning. What follows the turn may not be the best example of screenwriting, but the twist itself is executed near perfectly.
What the Movie Does Wrong
The screenwriting that follows the turn, aka the third act. Basically everyone’s characters change on a dime. Anna goes from being a timid protagonist to a psycho who doesn’t understand how human psychology works. Dan, who was the best hope for this movie, is seemingly forgot about and fades into the background. Jack goes from being a low level thug to a rapist pervert after being released from the trap. Perry stays pretty consistent, but that’s largely because he gets killed pretty quickly. Poor guy. I think you can pretty easily see how this movie was written. They started with how it would end, and then started production without thinking the rest of the script through. The first two-ish acts of this movie seem like they’re were put together well, and then the third act flies straight off the rails because none of the writers had any idea how to get the hell out there.
I would like to elaborate for a moment on what I said about Dan. By the end, he is essentially the only likeable character and the movie shuttles him into the background just when it needs him the most. The third act of the movie suffers because none of the leading characters personalities stay consistent and no one is likeable. Why not shift the focus from Anna to Dan, and use him to point out what is going on and react organically to the situation? Instead he goes from being an interesting character to a milktoast set dressing. It’s unfortunate.
There’s also the concept of Anna’s agoraphobia. This one bothers the hell out of me, because it is a completely useless and unnecessary plot device. If you are trying to defend this movie, you’ll argue that the agoraphobia is a manifestation of her inability to let go of her childhood drama. Fine, you could fill in that hole if you like, and you could point toward the lazy fumbling way the movie points you in that direction, but that doesn’t make it any more sensical. Wouldn’t that drive you out of the house? Wouldn’t you have the opposite of agoraphobia? If you see the ending as her getting over her trauma, then she is doing so by murdering three people, which doesn’t make her sympathetic at all. In fact, the movie requires that Jack’s character do an utterly nonsensical about face in order to fit into this narrative. You know what would’ve worked better? Just nix the phobia completely because it’s only mentioned once or twice. It makes you feel like they left it in purely for the scene where she pees herself out of anxiety from being outside. If that’s all you’re bringing to the table then you can get right the hell out of here.
Story: 5 - I already regret this score as being too high, but I’m pot committed at this point. I think there is something to be said for the uniqueness of premise, and how watchable the first half of this movie is. Everything through the first few scenes in the basement actually set this up to be a very solid and watchable horror experience. Unfortunately, the story loses focus at that point and blindly meanders toward a conclusion that is largely nonsensical.
World-Building / Immersion: 6.5 - This is largely an endorsement of the acting talent in the movie. Despite the characters bouncing off the walls, the actors generally do a top notch job at keeping things reigned in. At one point Rory Culkin delivers the line “oh” and the way he inflects it does a tremendous amount of work for his character. As I’ve said, I found the first two acts to be engrossing, and the third act to be unwatchable swill. Ergo, ⅔ is roughly equal to 6.5. Bam. Math.
Scare-Factor: 6 - There is a lot of tension in this movie, and it is essentially split into two halves. The first bit, the proper home invasion bit, is a great foray into the genre. Playing cat and mouse with the bad guys hiding behind piles of hoarder garbage was an effective way to build scariness into the movie. In the second half the retractable stairs serve as a great prop in service of the overall feel of the movie. This movie really could’ve capitalized on how well it built the dread, but ultimately instead just seemingly forgot what it was trying to do.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5 - This is mostly judicious lack thereof. The set design is solid, but a bit inconsistent. There are some good blood and injury effects, but they’re mostly fleeting. A bird get’s hammered, and it looks realistic, but again only lasts for a second or two. The stairs are a great prop and are featured very effectively. Outside of those things there isn’t much to comment on here.
Overall: 6 - If this movie were on TV, I would watch it. Honestly, this is mostly because of Martin Starr and Rory Culkin. Good work, fellas. I’ll admit I was pretty heavily let down by this one, but I do still think it’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a home invasion movie and you’ve already seen the big hitters of the genre.
Live reactions to Hellhouse LLC 2. Wow this is awful.