The horror genre is in a pretty interest space right now. The industry has seen trailblazing efforts like Jordan Peele’s Us and Ari Aster’s Midsommar push the boundaries of what a horror film can look like. At the same time, audiences have also seen critical duds like The Curse of La Llorona and Escape Room which rely heavily on horror film tropes and clichés. It would seem that the main goal of horror now is to push beyond what is expected, blend the genre with others, all in an attempt to create a scary yet fulfilling film-going experience. This leads us to IFC Midnight’s Trespassers. Originally titled Hell is Where the Home Is, the Orson Oblowitz-directed film is, on the surface, a home invasion story. But Oblowitz, and writer Corey Deshon, focus on character development rather than cheap thrills. It’s a scary adventure with people you genuinely care about, making Trespassers a surprising, yet stirring feature.
Trespassers follows two couples, each working through relationship issues. They quartet rent a gorgeous house in the desert for a sex and drug-fueled escape from reality. Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and Estelle (Janel Parrish) are longtime best friends looking forward to reconnecting after a period apart; their boyfriends, Joseph (Zach Avery) and Victor (Jonathan Howard), however, are immediately wary of one another. Tensions rise during a night filled with debauchery, but take a surprising turn when a mysterious woman (Fairuza Balk) claiming to be a neighbor with car trouble shows up at the door. At first she seems harmless, but slowly realize they can’t seem to get her to leave.
As stated, Trespassers is a home invasion movie that actually offers something different for the genre. After a brutal opening, the film slows right down, opting to really hone in on our main characters and flesh them out with each passing scene. Of course, you know that the violence is lurking in the shadows, and is not far away. However, Oblowitz slowly builds the eerie tension, so that by the time the horror really kicks off, your nerves will have you on the edge of your seat. Throughout most of the run time, you’ll feel uncomfortable while watching, but this is exactly what Oblowitz intended. It is suffocating tension mixed together with a set of barely-likeable characters who are thrusted into a brutal game of survive-the-night.
What’s even more impressive is how Oblowitz weaves together the increasing number of secrets that reveal themselves throughout the story. All relate to our core group but none really benefit any of them. This is why I said “barely likeable” in the paragraph above. At any point, you will find yourself rooting for different characters for different reasons, while also identifying with certain decisions they make. Come the end, it will be clear that the even the invaders could not have expected what will transpire during the invasion. No character is squeaky clean, and all are haunted by something from their past.
Angela Trimbur and Zach Avery lead the invasion/slasher pic and superbly present a multifaceted relationship that looks to be on its last legs. Avery’s Joseph lets his anger gets the best of him on certain occasions but only because he can’t express his true feelings. Trimbur’s Sarah is usually on the receiving end of the anger, but, while she seems like a standard good girl at first, she slowly starts to unravel as the story progresses.
Janel Parrish and Jonathan Howard round out the main cast as couple #2, Estelle and Victor. Parrish, best known for her role as Mona Pretty Little Liars, gets to show a different side here (in addition to a standard mean streak). Her character is placed in some of the more emotional moments, adding much needed dimensions to someone that could have wound up being one-note. Howard’s Victor plays off this very well. At times, he becomes the voice of reason in said emotional moments but in a flash, he becomes the raging coke-addict/abusive boyfriend that is teased in the early moments of the film.
Trespassers continues the hot streak of horror films that goes beyond the confides of its genre clichés. With Orson Oblowitz at the helm, the character-driven, home invasion story deals with real human problems while also delivering on the thrills of a slasher movie. The melodic score superbly plays during the crucial moments, complementing the eerie atmosphere around it, while cinematographer Noah Rosenthal perfectly captures the gloomy but vibrant setting perfectly. Overall, Trespassers commands your attention with enticing character development and solid scares, all while successfully doing something new with tired tropes.
Rating – 8/10
Trespassers invades theatres on July 12, 2019