Why I don’t like Home Invasion Movies
Confession: I don’t really like “home invasion” movies. A lot of them I actually loathe.
First I should stress that I think that the existence of every horror/thriller subgenre (or subsubgenre) is justified, but while some genres offer more possibilities for variation and expansion, others are rather limited. And “home invasion” definitely falls into the latter category. You can watch somebody hide behind the sofa only so many times before it gets boring.
But more importantly, they just don’t grab me on any level. Stylistically and thematically speaking, there is barely anything I can get out of them. A good chunk of all home invasion movies draw their appeal from the cheap “this could happen to you!”-factor, which they often rely far too much on, neglecting writing and stylistic means to create suspense and that’s not just uninspiring, it’s fucking lazy too. Recent home invasion movies tend to employ a fashionable minimalist approach rooted in realism -means lots of jittery cam and whispered dialogue- and they unintentionally demonstrate that the line between “realistic/immediate” and “mundane/monotonous” is pretty thin. Like recent survival movies, which I don’t like either, those movies feel rather like something to sit through than to enjoy. Feeling relieved that it’s over isn’t always equivalent with catharsis.
And of course there is a certain unsympathetic undercurrent in many (not all) home invasion movies that I alluded to in the last paragraph, namely one that stems from their reliance on certain middle-class fears, fears that have a tiny true core but are mainly born out of ignorance and arrogance, fears that are already perpetuated and financially exploited by tabloids, Fox News, etc. Apart from some exceptions (more about that later), barely any of the home invasion movies put a subversive spin on that, they are content to repeat the same old shit, which is a shame.
But, as I stated in the beginning, there are some good examples from any genre, so here is my Top 5 of home invasion movies!
Rules: I tried to stick as close as possible to the concept “home invasion” in the strictest sense of the term with my choices. Means, I focused on films whose main plot point is the actual home invasion. Therefore I excluded movies that technically belong to that genre, but in which the home invasion part only serves as a kick-off (High Tension) or as a backdrop for other themes and plotlines (Martyrs, Last House on the Left).
My Top 5 Home Invasion Movies
Ils aka Them (2006)
directed by David Moreau, Xavier Palud
A French couple buys a giant villa in the countryside of Romania. One night, a bunch of hooded intruders enters the house to terrorize them….and yes, that’s the whole story.
Ils is a minor entry into the French horror wave of the last decade. While not a completely satisfying movie -it’s maybe a tad too simplistic- it is still a notch above a good chunk of its competitors due to a superb photography and a tense atmosphere. I also appreciate that the performances ring genuine and the for this genre typical over-dramatic panting, muffled whiny dialogue and phony screaming are missing. A real head-scratcher is the ending though, featuring a silly insert that is almost offensive for the shameless way it exploits a prejudice-fuelled urban legend.
The Collector (2009)
directed by Marcus Dunstan
Ex-con Josh Stewart is forced by a loan shark his ex-wife is indebted to, to break into the house of his new employer. But he is not the only intruder, as he crosses paths with the demented serial killer “The Collector”, who has a penchant for setting up elaborate traps and adding those who survive them to his collection. Indeed, he collects people.
Looking at the plot and the aesthetics of the movie, it’s quite obvious that this movie was intended to fill the void that was opened after the last Saw-sequel left the theatres (Dunstan scripted several Saw-instalments). Now I have never been a Saw fan. Neither the convoluted plot nor the tired Nu Metal- video clip aesthetic ever did it for me and and the crude, gobbledigook “morally ambiguous” subtext is seriously groan-inducing. So I was pleasantly surprised by the high entertainment value of this one, probably the fact that they stripped away any forced twists and turned it into a more straightforward thrill-ride might have helped. Okay, the methods of the title character are so outlandish and implausible, they’d even make Jigsaw raise an eyebrow in disbelief. But the extra dose of over-the-topness also plays in its favour and prevents it from stepping into the trap (pun intended!) of being too predictably “mundane” (see first part of the article), pushing it over the edge into the territory of the good kind of lightly campy horror films. The hysterical, but effective showdown alone justifies a recommendation and a spot on this list.
The Strangers (2008)
directed by Bryan Bertino
A young couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) rents an isolated house in the countryside for the weekend, only to be terrorized by a bunch of strangers with creepy vintage masks.
For obvious reasons, the rumour that Strangers is an unofficial remake of Ils (see above) still persists, despite repeated assertions by the producers that the script had been written years before Ils was released. The truth may be out there, but does it matter anyway?
To be perfectly honest, The Strangers isn’t as suspenseful as some people make it out to be, but it’s decent enough. Again, the tense and nightmarish mood saves it from becoming another series of dull repetitions of the mechanics of this particular subgenre. The masks are cool too.
Alone in the Dark (1982)
directed by Jack Sholder
Four dangerous psychopaths (one of them played by Jack Palance, another one by Martin Landau!) who escaped the asylum during a power failure, are now besieging their doctor’s (Dwight Schultz!) house, intending to kill him and his family.
The good news? Uwe Boll did not direct this very one, but the 2005 movie of the same name. The bad news? Jack Sholder (Nightmare 2, The Hidden), one of the most uninspired, blandest craftsmen in the horror biz did direct it. Too bad, because otherwise Alone in the Dark had all the ingredients for a potential classic, from the simple yet effective premise down to the exquisite casting, but after Sholder’s mangled it with his workman-like style and his infamous lack of sense for pace, it turned out to be just an “okay” movie in the end.
Thankfully, the performances still make it a worthwhile experience. In supporting roles, genre legends Lyn Shaye and Donald Pleasance (playing a -no way! – psychologist and turning the character into a hilarious softie-counterpart to his signature role, Dr. Loomis) have opportunity to shine. All four actors portraying the psychopaths are excellent, but it’s Palance who just effortlessly takes over the movie every time he is on screen. It’s such a magnetic, fun and yet terrifying performance, it makes you forget that the movie surrounding it falls rather flat.
directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
While the streets of Paris are burning, the recently widowed, heavily pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is hiding in her high-security house in the suburbs. Late at night, a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) appears at her door. Soon we find out that this woman intends to cut the baby out of Sarah and nothing can stop her.
This is not just a great home invasion movie, this is the mother of all home invasion movies, while being the perfect anti-home invasion movie at the same time. How so?
As I stated in the intro, many home invasion movies are fuelled by middle class fears. But while they are exploiting those fears, they rarely question their origins or validity. Of course not, that would deter the target audience! Actually, despite all the atrocities on screen, most home invasion movies remain quite square under the surface. They are basically morality tales that might shake your for world for 90 minutes, but will release you back into reality afterwards with your values unscathed, the notion what a bad place the outside world is being confirmed to full satisfaction.
Inside takes this concept, rips its heart out and steps on it with high heels. Sarah literally locking out the turmoil that is happening right in her city is a barely a subtle metaphor for how we hide in our family houses from troubles that are more serious than our 1st world problems, but subtlety isn’t always a virtue. No, this movie goes for full effect, fizzling from the 1st to the last frame, avoiding the heavy-handed, plodding version of a build-up home invasion movies keep perpetuating.
At the end of Inside it becomes clear that the “Outside” will always win. Not an unusual ending for a home invasion movie – but this time, it wins on a moral level too.
The People under the Stairs (1991)
directed by Wes Craven
Poor ghetto kids break into the house of their landlord (Everett McGill!), who hides people under the stairs and between the walls, lives in an incestuous relationship with his sister and occasionally wears gimp suits.
Wacky semi-cult movie by Craven, that marries a ghetto fairy tale with a home invasion movie. Also, Reagan era-satire. Somewhere between “great” and “trash”, this is a bona fide guilty pleasure that has to be seen to be believed.
I decided not to include it in the main list, as the movie, the further it progreses, transcends the term “home invasion” by so far, that it doesn’t qualify as exemplary for the genre any longer.
Livide aka Livid (2011)
directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Young delinquents break into the villa of a comatose woman, hoping to find precious jewellery, but it’s not as uninhabited as they expected.
Another collaboration by the directors of Inside with Béatrice Dalle. Again, this one undergoes such a shift in direction and tone following a drastic twist that occurs halfway through the running time, that I cannot classify it as a “pure” home invasion flick. Highly recommended though.