By Paul Risker.
I still recall the scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) when the father tells his offspring that they cannot live separately of the world. It is a scene that has replayed itself numerous times in my mind since I first encountered what could be called Bertolucci’s tenacious ode to cinema. This theme of seeking seclusion from the outside world is presented in a wholly different tone in Adam Schindler’s Intruders (2015), originally titled Shut In. And yet it momentarily forges a connection between two seemingly disparate films when Anna’s (Beth Riesgraf) terminally ill brother Conrad (Timothy McKinney) tells her: “You can’t stay locked up forever; you have to get out and be a part of the world.”
Intruders tells the story of Anna, a woman who has not left her house since the death of her father. When she fails to break her agoraphobic fear and attend her brother’s funeral, she finds her secluded world abruptly invaded by three men. As in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, the external world plays its part in defining the story. While in the former the social and artistic everyday worked in tandem with the characters, inspiring their passions, so too in Schindler’s Intruders is the outside drawn in to act as a catalyst for Anna’s confrontation with her past, present and future. Her earlier response: “I want the world to leave me alone” serves to contextualise the thieves as the agents of cruel destiny that bring ferocity to Conrad’s warning: “That’s not the way it works.”
The impression of the error in renaming the film is an inescapable one. While the word ‘Intruders‘ is a fitting precursor, by looking both to the conversational past as well as the as yet unseen future, the original title Shut In struck the harmonious note of a narrative rather than a commercially motivated title.
The secluded setting of Intruders resonates with cinemas own propensity for scope, from vast sprawling landscapes and worlds to the most claustrophobic of settings. Within these spatially restricted narratives the characters are seemingly trapped in the frame of the camera and a suspenseful story, such as Intruders’, offers the impression of a lack of escape. Yet in spite of this sense of spatial seclusion or claustrophobia, the presence of both actress and character infuses Intruders with a sense of introverted pleasure. This equally resonates with cinema’s propensity to appeal to our introverted and inward-focused natures, and in turn offsets the film as a collective and individualistic experience on a spectatorial level, which intertwines with Anna’s desire versus fate’s forceful hand.
The black funeral attire offset by long flowing blonde hair casts Anna as a convergence of the living and the dead. It is difficult not to comprehend her look as anything other than a deliberate choice. We will later learn the extent to which Anna is a scarred survivor, and early inferences suggest the interwoven persona of both victim and survivor is a preoccupying theme of the film. As she’s perhaps most adequately described as a character of shades, it depends upon the light as to which side of her we see. Reisgraf infuses Anna with a penchant for silence, lost in thoughtful stares that have a tinge of a deeper torment. Her identification as an agoraphobic woman in survival mode draws us in, while her orchestral physical melody of transition from desperate paralytic tears and urination on the porch, to a cunning and cerebral predator only adds to her compelling presence. And this is none more so than in relation to her male intruders. The film emerges out of its characters: Anna the isolated female opposite the naïve criminal with one foot in, the other one out, the leader of the pack with the plan and therein the alpha male. In keeping with the traditions of the genre the volatile member of the group has an excessive propensity for violence, as the naked flame next to the gunpowder keg. These traditional character archetypes, however, are not used as a hollow means of engagement to propel the film forward. While these characters are admittedly generic building blocks, through Anna’s interaction with each they serve to reveal the violent and manipulative sides to her personality as well as her vulnerability and potential mortality.
Beneath the surface of a well-made and suspenseful genre picture, Intruders possesses a richness within its deceptively simple construct. On my first viewing I observed Intruders from the perspective of a routine genre picture, and it was only on the repeat viewing that I began to interrogate it further. There is something inherently different within the experience when one knows what to expect – the value of familiarity for a deeper contemplation. Dan (Rory Culkin) tells Anna: “Not everybody feels so strongly about home, and not everybody feels like they have a home.” One could describe the house as Anna’s self-made tomb or family mausoleum that is constructed out of the memory of a traumatic past, yet this has the feel of an oversimplification. With the house a part of Anna’s memories and the stage upon which past traumas are played out, the film lends a vague Dickensian nod, as the intruders compel her confrontation with the past. Anna’s three living Dickensian ghosts, the intruders create an encounter that offer her with an opportunity for personal salvation or an ongoing imprisonment in her cycle of suffering. They represent the individual as victim, one fueled by a cruel and vindictive nature, and the most complex of the three, the alpha male who represents the individual with reason and foresight. And yet this last figure cautions us against allowing ourselves to spiral into inescapable acts that will haunt us to the grave.
At ninety minutes Intruders is an effectively paced and consistent genre picture. Unlike the 2016 U.S. remake of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) – which is aesthetically pleasing in moments, but lacking a soul – Intruders is not an example of this stagnant breed of genre cinema. Intruders has a sense of curiosity that offers a contemplation of intriguing themes. But the image and presence of Anna remains in the mind after the credits have rolled. It is perhaps the tragic sensitivity behind those eyes that lack an absolute cruelty, and instead possess a contentious personality forged through personal tragedy that lends her a quieter, darker and more contradictory presence. While a character forged in the fires of survival, she is one who needs to learn the significance and opportunity of her renewed status – living with the scars of the past while taking steps into a liberated future.
Intruders was released theatrically in the UK in January and will be released on DVD on June 6th by Studio Canal.
Paul Risker is an independent scholar and film critic who contributes regularly to Film International. He is an Editor for Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film and Visual Narration, which will launch in Fall 2016.