Home Invasion thrillers are pretty much their own genre by now, and another has entered the fold with Adam Salky’s Intrusion, a sleek, nerve wracking, fairly predictable yet really well oiled piece that Netflix funded and just added to their lineup last night with little fanfare or marketing. This film doesn’t necessarily spend too much time on the invasion itself, but rather on what comes after and the motivation behind the crime. Logan Marshall Green and Freida Pinto are an affluent yuppie couple who have moved into a swanky post modern home that seems absurdly out of place in the flat, humdrum prairie county they’ve moved to. One night a group of masked men breaks into their house and tosses the place, clearly looking for something. After they are shot in self defence by hubbie, it seems as if the case is closed and it’s time to move on… right? The suspicious local sheriff (always nice to see Robert John Burke) doesn’t seem to think so based on details from the investigation that don’t add up and soon Pinto doesn’t either as she notices her husband’s odd, elusive behaviour and secretive ways. Why did these guys choose their house, and just who were they anyways? That’s the fun, and if the unfolding plot veers frequently into easily predicted beats, that’s made up for with some truly breathtaking tension and innovative camera work, some fluid visual dynamics in shot composition that clearly echo the work of Brian De Palma and add layers of atmospheric dimension to the film. Pinto, beyond being one of the most drop dead beautiful women I’ve ever seen onscreen, is also a terrific actress and owns the role here, never devolving into hysterics or going into stoic autopilot mode and always coming across as a real human being in a terrifying situation. The score by Alex Heffes adds another layer of spooky electronic beats and pulses too, especially in breathless sequences set inside their large, spacious and inherently eerie home. It isn’t anything groundbreaking in terms of thriller material and you can pretty much guess where it’s going midway through the first act but it’s very well executed, slickly produced and suspenseful like nobody’s business.
There’s a lot of bad mojo out there for this film and maybe it had to do with the fact that M. Night Shoppingcart was attached during the nadir of his creative enterprise. He’s endured a fair helping of hate but I’ve always loved his storytelling and I really enjoyed Devil, a film that lives up to its title in ways you don’t see coming and weaves a taut, spring loaded morality fable laced with just enough supernatural menace to keep us on edge. One stormy day in a Philadelphia high rise five strangers find themselves trapped together in a busted elevator. A young woman (Bojana Novakavic), an old woman (Jenny O’Hara), a mechanic (Logan Marshall Green), a snotty dweeb in a suit (Geoffrey Arend) and a temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine). Outside a police detective (Chris Messina) with a tormented past races against time to get them out as they all start dying one by one. One of these five in the elevator is in fact the Devil, in a quite literal sense, and he’s killing the others off one by one when the lights flicker in and out. How do we know this? The obligatory superstitious Latino Catholic character nervously informs us, of course. Alright, this isn’t the greatest film on some fronts, the story could have been a bit more focused, there’s some third act revelations that swoop in out of nowhere and although I myself didn’t guess off the bat who was the Devil, I’ve heard many claim they did, but who knows if that’s true, film critics are notorious flakes and liars. There’s a lot to enjoy here, including those third act revelations, the final twist lands well exceptionally well with timing and pathos, the Devil has some slick dialogue when he finally does show himself and the character work is pretty good. Also, you know your cinematographer is having fun when he opens the film with a classic overhead cityscape shot… presented upside down. The man in question is legendary DOP Tak Fujimoto, whose credits include everything from Silence Of The Lambs to Pretty In Pink to Badlands to The Manchurian Candidate. He has a blast here with ballsy dolly shots, quick zooms and wide pans that make the building feel larger than it is and the elevator smaller than it is, very effective work. I’d love to hear what the abject haters of this have to say for themselves *without* mentioning Shyamalan and focusing on the film itself, because it’s pretty weak, tired and hive-minded to attack his solid, varied and excellent career just because it’s cool to do so. Devil is wicked fun, a high concept supernatural shocker that isn’t perfect but entertained the hell out of me.
Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is slick, bloody, wired Sci Fi action pulp and I loved every second of it, mounted on a high concept premise that’s just this side of outrageous and filled with both enough body shredding extreme violence and atmospheric mood to fuel an entire TV show. A quirky, intelligent mix of horror and futurism, Whannell puts the same brains responsible for the first Saw film into the story of Grey (Logan Marshall Green) a mechanic who is given a nifty new implant following the murder of his wife (Melanie Vallejo) that also leaves him a quadriplegic. Dubbed the Stem and cooked up by a weirdo tech mogul (Harrison Gilbertson), it latches onto his nervous system and makes him a super fast, highly capable killing machine and he sets out to find his attackers and… well.. kill them all in just about as violent ways as anyone could think up. There is actual thought, care and innovation put into this world and it’s construction though, until the very exploitive genre material feels lifted up by pure creation and we get something that thinks, feels and ponders just as much as it stabs and bleeds. An organic mix of Blade Runner style setting is welcome, as both the city they live in and the esoteric score by Jed Palmer are very LA 2049 with a hint of steampunk. Green is a great actor who has slowly been building steam in fits and starts, he had a smaller role in Prometheus and headlined the very underrated Cinemax original Quarry recently, but her he shows he can do leading man work in bigger projects, he’s tough, engaging and sympathetic. This is an extreme vision of a futuristic world that although seems alien to us, is not so different in many ways, and that makes it both scary and compelling. One of the best this year so far.