Evaluating B-movies is a hard thing to do nowadays because that prefixed ‘B’ is euphemistic for ‘cheesy’ or ‘old’. It’s difficult for a film to truly be made as a B-movie if time is the defining factor; most films are made with the eye that someone somewhere will genuinely see artistic merit in it. That being said, The Intruder is probably the closest thing to an outright modern B-movie: batty logic, insane scenery-chewing, bizarre camerawork, sketchy gender politics – and it all feels intentional.
What’s unique about The Intruder is that the basic set-up doesn’t necessarily scream “farcical cinematic gold”. It follows Scott and Annie (played by Michael Ealy and Meagan Good), a young, ridiculously affluent couple in San Francisco who are head over heels for each other. On a whim, they drive up to Napa Valley and discover Foxglove, an ivy-ridden, idyllic estate in the heart of the vineyards owned by slimy yet oddly charismatic widower, Charlie (played by Dennis Quaid). He’s keen to move on and spend his twilight years in Florida but, naturally, when Scott and Annie snap up Foxglove they discover the extreme lengths Charlie will go to stay in his home. It’s basically a reversal of little-remembered thriller Cold Creek Manor, except this time Dennis Quaid is the bad guy.
There’s a clear well of horror from which The Intruder could tap into. Scott and Annie are a well-heeled young black couple and aside from one obviously racist jibe from Charlie questioning Scott’s ability to pay for Foxglove, The Intruder never capitalises on this, favouring the soapy thrills approach. That’s in spite of Charlie’s seldom removed red baseball cap, his gun obsession and his implied conservative politics.
Since the set-up, ripe for the kind of nightmarish ruminations on race we’ve seen in films like Get Out, is not inherently B-movie material it actually makes the film’s speedy descent into nonsense all the more enjoyable. You expect some kind of interesting allegorical thriller and then Dennis Quaid starts frothing at the mouth and The Intruder swan-dives in the best way possible.
We can’t say anything more about The Intruder before we talk about Dennis Quaid here. His performance is a work of art; a committed, full-bodied portrait of insanity, all snarls and smirks and terrifying, toothless smiles. Quaid works so hard to be so intensely repellent that it’s hard not to admire the man’s commitment, and he’s aided by material that gives him every opportunity to flex his villainous muscles. Speaking of which, Charlie is also shown to be unfeasibly, almost hilariously ripped and Quaid exaggerates every moment of Charlie’s scary, jarring physicality.
As our leading couple, Ealy and Good manage to hold their own against Quaid’s killer performance, and you can imagine lesser actors struggling to stand out. Ealy nails Scott’s insecurities; his alpha male anxiety when Charlie effortlessly schmoozes the thoroughly charmed Annie is palpable. In the other corner is Good, who has a far more difficult role. Annie is portrayed as being hopelessly naïve, falling prey to Charlie’s affable guise on so many occasions you wonder how she can do something like go to the shops without accidentally killing herself. It’s a fine line to walk but Good has charisma in spades and Quaid is such a detestable villain that it’s difficult to ever root against Annie, pea-brain that she is.
However, it does become rather uncomfortable when Annie’s inability to gauge danger against her never lets up. When Charlie and Scott lock horns it’s initially over ownership of the house but as the film progresses, Foxglove becomes interchangeable with Annie. Charlie’s loneliness is brought up a lot, his affection for Annie is clear and eventually, it becomes a fight for Annie’s body. Were Annie to have any agency, any authority here – something The Intruder pays weak lip service to when Annie briefly mentions her job writing on women’s issues (a nice bit of ADR) – then it wouldn’t be a problem, but she and her body are used as a trophy repeatedly. The scales are evened a little towards the end but it’s definitely a film that prioritises its male characters at the expense of its own female protagonist.
That it’s hardly the most progressive film is ultimately The Intruder’s biggest failing, but everything else about it is so retro ’70s that its treatment of Annie is objectionable but not discordant. Ultimately, though, there is gargantuan amounts of fun to be had with The Intruder if you’re a fan of agreeably silly thrillers, and, frankly, Dennis Quaid’s awards-worthy scenery-chewing is worth the price of admission alone.
The Intruder is out in cinemas now.