Originally and more aptly titled Shut In—the change was forced by a competing Shut In starring Naomi Watts, due later this year—Intruders boasts an intriguing premise that quickly seems to backfire in a major way. The film is a home-invasion thriller in which the victim, Anna (Beth Riesgraf), can’t flee the house, even when she succeeds in escaping her tormentors, because she’s a massive agoraphobe. Merely stepping onto her front porch triggers a debilitating panic attack, so when three young men break in and threaten violence, her attempt to run abruptly ends at the front door. For a few minutes, it genuinely appears as if Intruders has nowhere to go. And with the heroine completely incapacitated, and the bad guys roaming around in search of the cash they’ve heard Anna hoards, viewers are left free to scoff at some production-design choices that seem ludicrously over the top. Is this someone’s house, or is it a combination museum and slaughterhouse? As it turns out, the answer arrives shortly, in a bait-and-switch reveal that recalls Rorschach’s classic line from Watchmen: “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.”
Sadly, this twist proves only momentarily clever, as screenwriters T.J. Cimfel and David K. White (who previously penned the wraparound segment for V/H/S: Viral) gradually flesh out, with the dumbest possible particulars, a scenario that’s better left unexplained. An early, vague reference to Anna’s father—she can never forgive him, she tells her dying brother, Conrad (Timothy McKinney), “for what he did”—suddenly becomes significant when JP (Jack Kesy), Vance (Joshua Mikel), and Perry (Martin Starr) head down to the basement and find that it appears to have been commissioned by Jigsaw. The idea of home invaders unwittingly breaking into a house occupied by the meek but resourceful daughter of a deceased H.H. Holmes-style serial killer holds enormous exploitation-flick promise. That’s not quite what’s happening here, however, as eventually becomes clear. Intruders’ actual backstory is at once more maudlin and (even) more preposterous, chockablock with elements that only make sense as a means of keeping the movie going. Delight at having been misled soon metamorphoses into annoyance at having been given false hope.
Even if the script had been stronger, other problems would remain. First-time director Adam Schindler has a great deal of trouble visually conveying the house’s bizarre architecture—it’s rarely clear how various rooms are connected, though that information is often necessary to follow what’s happening. And his casting choices, while adventurous, don’t always pay off. Riesgraf, best known as Parker on the TNT series Leverage, does solid work as Anna, but her shy friendship with a food-delivery guy played by Rory Culkin (so great in last year’s little-seen Gabriel) never finds the emotional footing it seeks. And while it was an interesting notion to have geek icon Starr (Party Down, Drunk History) play the most sadistic of the three criminals, badass really isn’t part of his range. Intruders ultimately comes across like basic-cable schlock (or is it Netflix schlock now?), slightly redeemed by the germ of a great idea, even if said idea never truly germinates. By the end, even Anna’s agoraphobia seems irrelevant—another novel concept that goes nowhere.