Conrad (Timothy T. McKinney), brother of Anna (Beth Riesgraf), keeps calling her ‘Birdy’ – and though he means it affectionately, the childish nickname just annoys Anna.
Maybe it reminds her of her state of arrested infantilisation, locked into a relationship of interdependence with her brother in their childhood home even though both are now very much adults. Maybe the nickname makes Anna think of the pet budgerigar that she keeps in an ornate cage, never able to fly away. In any case, the spacious suburban house where she has lived her entire life, with her upstairs bedroom preserved just as it was when she was a little girl, has become her own gilded cage, and a kind of tomb – the latter almost literally for bedbound Conrad, who early in the film dies there from his pancreatic cancer, leaving Anna to face the outside world alone and for the first time. She is not quite ready yet.
Names count in Adam Schindler’s feature debut. It originally travelled the festival circuit as Shut In, a neatly polysemic title which not only captures Anna’s status as an agoraphobic incapable of stepping out her own front door, but also slyly foreshadows the fate of any male assailant who makes the mistake of entering her fragile domain. Shut In has since been retitled for the, heh, home market with the far blander Intruders, a word that baldly announces the home invasion plotting to come, without adumbrating or ambiguating much else. It is arguably the more straightforward title, but also the inferior one.
A trio of bickering, would-be thieves (played by Jack Kesy, Martin Starr and Joshua Mikel) break into Anna’s home, believing that she will be out at her brother’s funeral service, and looking for the bagfuls of hard cash that Anna’s meals-on-wheels provider Dan (Rory Culkin) has let slip are hidden on the premises. Once they find Anna there, and realise that she is incapable of leaving, they figure they have themselves a Lady in a Cage, like Olivia de Havilland’s helplessly trapped character in Walter Grauman’s 1964 shocker. The presence in the cast, however, of Macaulay Culkin’s brother signals an alternative possibility: a Home Alone-like situation in which empowered intruders have the tables cruelly turned on them by a cunning stay-at-home.
In fact what Intruders delivers also riffs on Hitchcock’s Psycho, with its intimations of a deeply damaged character caught as much in a wounding family history as in a physical space. As Anna keeps shifting from victim to aggressor and back again, we bear witness to a psychodrama that has been playing and replaying long before the film’s events began – a repeating scenario of abuse horrifically executed and remorse vainly sought. The surname that Anna shares with Conrad is Rook – another word with avian associations, but also a piece on a chess board. Conrad’s death introduces the end game, but Anna, in her castle-like home (complete with faux Ionic columns at the entrance) will need both strategy and sacrifice to clear the board and reset the game.
Schindler plays these cat-and-mouse tropes expertly, as hunter and hunted repeatedly swap rôles – but Schindler proves equally adept at playing our initial sympathies with Anna off against our escalating moral unease. Here the genre thrills of Intruders gain a deeper resonance from the twinned motifs of tragedy and trauma that have beset Anna since she was 10 years old. In facing the intruders by herself and on her own home ground, Anna is also confronting her deepest, darkest memories of other forced entries, and working through to a slash-and-burn resolution – and we are ultimately left unsure whether being let out might not be worse then remaining shut in.
Intruders is released on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD by StudioCanal, 6th June 2016
© Anton Bitel