By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, Jonathan Howard
Directed by Orson Oblowitz
Written by Corey Deshon
Produced by 1inMM Productions, The Hallivis Brothers
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually getting tired of The Strangers’ brand of nihilism. Or at least seeing others try to imitate it.
I mean, why is it exactly that so many serial killers in these films now treat their murders as a social experiment, waxing poetic on how it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world out there and how the human race is savage at heart before getting down to business? Might as well just die your hair green, get a face tattoo that looks like clown makeup, and create a new Facebook account or two with a profile pic of you slow dancing with yourself. Calm down Arthur Fleck.
This is probably a pretty negative way to start this review off, isn’t it?
To be clear, I don’t hate this film. I just wish it had a different point. And maybe some less generic killers.
TRESPASSERS starts off with two troubled couples moving in together for a kind of couples’ retreat; Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and Joseph (Zach Avery) are trying to recover from the aftermath of a miscarriage and hope a little time away will help them heal, and Estelle (Janel Parrish) and Victor (Jonathan Howard) are hoping to grow closer as a couple and work through their own undisclosed issues (they aren’t undisclosed, but I don’t want to spoil things). Honestly, the film might have been more interesting if the home invaders were left out of it: the cracks between the couples start to deepen as they interact with one another in this isolated environment, and characters start to reveal their ugliest selves as the film goes on. The first real fracture comes when a mysterious Visitor (Fairuza Balk) shows up asking for help, and the characters argue over whether to give her aid or force her out. This culminates in a conflict between the characters that brings out (in my opinion) the most horrifying aspect of the film, the question of whether you truly know those around you. The home invaders don’t even slightly compare to the first antagonist of the film; whereas the killers do what they do “because they were home,” (yes, that’s basically what it is) the snapping of an already dangerous character is immensely more terrifying to this reviewer. I found myself wishing the home invasion was a misdirect and the film just focused on the interactions of these four characters.
“TRESPASSERS is what happens when juvenile nihilism and an attempt to pay homage to a classic interfere with an otherwise compelling plot.”
After the killers show up, the film takes on a retro color palette and indulges in a little synth music, feeling for a brief moment like a feature-length Carpenter Brut music video (and that is a compliment, by the way). I say a brief moment because there’s really only about fifteen minutes of home invasion action before we transition to a scene from a torture porn flick; the survivors are rounded up and tied to chairs while the bad guys wax poetic about the meaninglessness of life, all the while getting off on some torture. And look, I’m not above torture porn AT ALL; I’m part of the generation that, for better or worse, grew up on it (that and The Conjuring films). It just feels like it’s been done before. The one thing that the antagonists of this film have to differentiate themselves from forerunners like The Strangers is that many of them aren’t anonymous; they aren’t exactly characters that inspire trust in the audience (with one notable exception), but our protagonists tend to trust them. And to the film’s credit, while the ultimate antagonists of the film are… annoyingly vocal… about their philosophy and the film’s messaging, it isn’t all tell and no show: even the characters we’re meant to root for betray one another in a number of ways. Your enjoyment of this film will mainly hinge on whether you find the degradation of the main characters’ relationships (and the chaotic consequences that ensue) thrilling; with the exception of the I Know What You Did Last Summer plotline that makes up at least half of the film, there isn’t much here that isn’t standard for this genre.
I don’t want to be too hard on this film. As frustrating as I find the killers, it takes a couple of major turns that will keep your attention; up to the hour mark, this film is tense, rife with drama, and underscoring the conflicts between the main characters is the threat the mysterious Visitor represents. Granted that threat is generic as all hell, but the promise of it is thrilling enough in the first half of the film. I’ll give TRESPASSERS a six. As much shit as I’ve given this film for its flaws, the drama underscoring the generic conflict, the narrative twists, and the stylistic action sequences make up for some of its weaknesses.
This week, we return to Shudder to cover some lesser known finds. Stay tuned.