Two dysfunctional couples rent a modern luxury desert home for the weekend hoping to sort out their messed-up lives. Just as they are about to settle in for a fun night, a neighbour turns up at their front door saying she has car trouble. And that’s when the murderous trouble really starts. Because without knowing it, the four friends have landed slap-bang in the wrong violent place at precisely the wrong bloody time. Hopefully your nerves of steel will hold for one of the most stylish, atmospheric and terror-filled home invasion horrors of them all.
Trespassers – alternately known as Hell Is Where The Home Is – is the latest entry into a very crowded genre, the home invasion thriller. Opening in the night time Mojave desert, the first scene shows us a pair of masked dudes as they kidnap and brutally murder an unnamed couple. It’s a stark and effective opener, lean and to the point. One cut to daytime later and we meet Sarah and Joe, as they arrive at a house they’ve rented to try and pour some oil on the waters of their somewhat troubled relationship. We follow them on their whirlwind tour of the house (which happens to be a rather incredible modern designer pad) during which they find some vaguely troubling signs of the previous occupants, such as a darkroom festooned with undeveloped photographs and a baby’s room decked out with a cot; it almost seems as though they disappeared at very short notice…
Very soon another couple, Victor and Estelle, arrive at the house; the new arrivals also appear to be looking to regain some domestic bliss. It quickly becomes apparent that while none of the four are seemingly likeable, Victor and Estelle in particular are the kind of coke-snorting douche bags that you probably wouldn’t want to share a house with for any great length of time. (It’s also noticeable by now that, much like the house, our four friends are all equally gorgeous; not a skin blemish or awkward profile to be seen any-where). Victor and Estelle are doing the nasty within minutes of arriving, at one point accidentally being spied on by Joe; Estelle soon notices the voyeur in the corner though but doesn’t seem to mind.
Following an afternoon of somewhat awkward interactions between the two couples, proceedings are interrupted by a stranger at the door; a mysterious woman (played by Fairuza Balk of The Craft and American History X fame) who claims to know the owners of the house. She asks if she can use the house telephone (wouldn’t you know it, as with a lot of these types of movies there just happens to be no cell phone signal in the area) as her car has broken down; before you know it she is happily wandering the place, engaging in various bits of odd behaviour.
Events decidedly take a turn for the worse when – in a freak accident – Victor manages to pop her eyeball out of her skull with the kitchen faucet; rarely a move to go down well with house guests. This acts as the cue for Victor to go into a full-on meltdown; it’s pretty clear by now he’s a serial abuser, not just of his partner Estelle but to anyone he comes into close contact with. Unfortunately for Victor – and everyone else – there are bigger and badder antagonists yet to arrive, in the shape of the kidnappers we met earlier. Also turning up is the local law enforcement, in the shape of Sergeant Daniels and Officer Ramirez; the former of these being played by Carlo Rota (who you may recognise from a brief turn as Anton LaVey in American Horror Story: Apocalypse or as Morris from 24).
It’s at this point that it becomes fairly clear which direction the story is going to head in; there is at least one character who may as well be wearing an “I’m really the bad guy” t-shirt. That said there is still a lot to be entertained by here; all of the actors give it their all, especially Carlo Rota and Jonathan Howard as Victor. The latter has probably the biggest role to get his teeth into, and manages to portray a convincing coke-addled, untrustworthy snake of a guy. Zach Avery as Joe, Janel Parrish as Estelle and Angela Trimbur are all very good as well, but are hamstrung slightly by their characters being more two-dimensional than Victor.
There have been many great examples of this type of movie, including the original Straw Dogs, Ils, The Strangers, Funny Games and The Purge – and a good deal more that didn’t quite make the cut. Where does Trespassers fall amongst its brethren? In all honesty it acquits itself fairly well; the film is very well shot, utilising the day and night desert scenery to great effect. It has a very accomplished stylised look, the beautiful house (and protagonists) highlighted at times using moody, stark red and blue tones.
Orson Oblowitz’s direction is solid, and the movie strikes a dour, nihilistic tone; the motivation for the bad guys’ spilling of blood appears to be simply that they can. Sound design is very good too, some of the music giving off an Ennio Morricone/Spaghetti Western vibe. There are a number of tense, uncomfortable scenes throughout; unfortunately there are also a good few that borrow liberally from other films (not least a scene where one character is forced to hit another, lifted wholesale from The Devil’s Rejects). There are some nice gore-spattered kills littered throughout, and isn’t that after all what we’re here for? While The Trespassers is a little too generic to be listed among the greats of the sub-genre, it is nevertheless a solid, well-acted entry that’s well worth a viewing.