The home invasion genre has been done repeatedly. Not to say there can’t be any more good entries to the genre, but to make one that stands out rather than just being ‘a good home invasion movie’ is a difficult challenge. Adam Wingard however took the challenge by directing and editing this movie, written by Simon Barrett. My only previous knowledge of Wingard’s work was the slightly inconsequential yet absolutely necessary and successfully atmospheric linking story Tape 56 for V/H/S, and the genuinely unsettling and unique Phase 1 Clinical Trials for V/H/S 2. With no expectations either way I was able to watch with an open mind.
The opening sequence makes a pretty firm point; it has a slow build relying on tension and atmosphere above jumps and craziness, but when the violence does come it is grim and extreme, with no sense of spectacle. It sets up a morbid, dark approach far removed from the lighter, sometimes verging on comical approach a number of horrors of late have taken to violence. Offering no real reason for the attack, no explanation to who did is behind the masks it jumps straight into the main story of a family reunion for the parent’s anniversary at their new house, allowing a lingering sense of dread to gnaw away without spoon feeding the viewer.
Without spoiling any of the turns this film takes, I’ll say that it’s very clever in the way it ramps up the action to keep itself fresh and interesting amongst the countless similar movies out there. The first scene in which the home invasion starts is one of the most terrifying sequences I’ve seen in a while –the setpiece that’s set up is so simple that you can imagine yourself in the character’s shoes and it has a brilliant, raw sense of terror. The cast display various levels of hysteria without it seeming forced and the camera puts you right in the action rather than providing a voyeuristic view from afar. As the film progresses, the stakes are constantly raised as the invaders seem to get closer and closer to taking over, but so too the tone changes. To watch any scene from the beginning of the invasion against any scene towards the end it would seem like two different films. Many films have a sudden change in tone, but here the shift is so incremental that it feels completely fluid, almost happening without you noticing. A dry sense of humour slowly creeps into the proceedings; rarely even skirting slapstick, and never winking at the viewers to say “LOOK HOW INTELLIGENT AND SELF AWARE THIS FILM IS!!!”, it’s pure, ultra dark humour that manages to sit aside the otherwise rather grim content of the film. It is in this constantly evolving tone that the film finds its niche, and despite it imaginably being incredibly difficult to manage, it is pulled off with apparent ease.
A great cast are of course the last piece required to sell the film; without relying on a self-referential camp tone, wooden acting would have killed this film (KILLED, like in a horror movie…? No?).Choosing decent actors over a reliance on vivid gore effects or large scale action scenes certainly show how such a great film can be made for a relatively slim budget of $1million. Not necessarily feeling the need to reinvent the genre, this film nonetheless manages to make the home invasion movie feel fresh and unpredictable, and it is definitely among my favourite releases of 2013 – despite the fact it was made & premiered in 2011 it didn’t get a proper release until 2 years later…