2019, PG-13, 102 min. Directed by Deon Taylor. Starring Meagan Good, Michael Ealy, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Sikora.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., May 3, 2019
Good melodrama is sometimes hard to spot. It’s one thing when an acclaimed director adopts the emotional language of melodrama in their latest feature, but when this mode of cinema rears its head in more traditional genres – such as horror or tragedies – audiences can be slow to take it seriously. So let’s save everyone some time: The Intruder is a delightful use of the conventions of melodrama to subvert traditional horror archetypes. And yes, you absolutely read that right the first time.
After earning millions as a San Francisco marketing executive, city kid Scott (Ealy) agrees to settle down in Napa Valley with his wife Annie (Good). Soon they find the perfect home to start a family; rustic, remote, and surrounded by woods, this luxurious property is everything they’ve ever wanted. They’re even willing to overlook the occasional visit from Charlie (Quaid), the previous owner, who seems like nothing more than a middle-aged widower looking to help out a little. Until, of course, Charlie’s drop-ins become a little more frequent and a little less innocent.
Many will see The Intruder’s PG-13 rating and aging antagonist, then write it off as a misplaced direct-to-video curio. But in this case, the broad spectacle of the film is a feature, not a bug. Everything that happens is designed to cut the film’s overt social commentary with melodramatic character and story beats. A middle-aged, blue-collar worker is forced from his home by his own financial failures but convinces himself he can earn everything back if he just murders the black man who took his place? It’s the kind of overearnest plotting that would stagnate if delivered with a straight face, but it works divinely when hidden beneath a layer of escalated emotions and genre tropes.
Nobody knows this better than Quaid. Despite being an unconventional choice to play a villain of any kind, Quaid throws himself into the role of Charlie with a manic energy that borders on the heroic. This is a performance of bulging eyes, grotesque smiles, and wet noises delivered under his breath. Anything less than complete abandon on the part of the actor and the character doesn’t work; when dialed up to 11, however, Charlie becomes a bag of bluster on par with Death Proof’s Stuntman Mike. I dare you to watch him sit shirtless in a basement, practicing turning his too-large smile on and off, and tell me Quaid isn’t in on the joke. He knows exactly what’s being asked of him and he’s all too happy to deliver.
The Intruder may not be destined for great things upon its initial release, but there’s too much delightful excess here for the movie to stay down for long. This is the kind of film that will unironically end up on a prominent scholar’s Best of 2019 list. If you can sync up with the film’s ridiculous wavelength, you might just find you love it, too.