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Intruder Alert: Nate’s Top Ten Home Invasion Thrillers

Lock the doors, bolt the windows and load that shotgun, because someone’s out there and they want in. There’s something primal and terrifying about a good home invasion thriller, a certain violation felt in the act of unwanted visitors breaching the sacred perimeter of one’s homestead. Be it burglars, psychopaths, serial killers or Jehovah’s Witnesses, no one likes the sanctity of their dwelling encroached upon and the premise alone has made for some really fun, often scary and always exciting films, my top ten of which are as follows:

10. Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

These days there’s a new Nicolas Cage flick for every day of the week, and you have to tread carefully through the proverbial minefield of shit nuggets. This is a sleek, solid thriller in the tradition of 90’s Hollywood programmers and provides serviceable excitement. Cage and Nicole Kidman are an upper class couple whose lavish mansion is invaded by a trio of nasty, violent criminals played by Dash Mihok (always awesome), Cam Gigandet (I know he sucks so bad but he’s the only weak link here) and Ben Mendelsohn who rocks the house as always. Who are these guys? What do they want? The fun is in finding out and watching Cage and his family evade these dangerous loonies while trying to stay alive.

9. Joseph Ruben’s Penthouse North

Another 90’s genre throwback, this one sees blind artist Michelle Monaghan facing off against psychopathic jewel thief Michael Keaton, who hid a diamond in her spacious Manhattan loft apartment years ago and wants it back. Monaghan is always terrific and overlooked as an actress, whenever she scores a lead role I’m first in line for tickets. Keaton tends to nail the diabolical villain part because his upfront affability is so disarming that one feels true shock when he abruptly shifts to volatile nastiness. This was tied with Mike Flanagan’s Hush for a spot on the list and while that one is terrific too, I felt that due to the extreme obscurity and overlooked status of Penthouse North that it needed some love.

8. Michael Dunstan’s The Collector

A very unique horror film in which an ex con decides to rob the country estate of his wealthy employer, with a small crew. But someone else has also targeted the house on the same night, basically the last dude you want to be stuck alone with in a closed off environment. It’s a stylish, spooky mashup of Saw, Home Alone and Mouse Trap with a dark palette, some spectacularly gory sequences and a villain you won’t soon forget.

7. James DeMonaco’s The Purge

While the overall concept of the purge is better explored and elaborated on more in the sequels, this first one still works as a horror thriller and dishes out some great suspense, not to mention believable performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. It’s also fun watching Hawke’s reportedly foolproof home security system get slowly breached by the preppy psycho brats that have decided to target them.

6. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

This whacked out funhouse of a flick starts with one home invasion that’s a brash, routine burglary and evolves into another that is subtle, psychological and terrifying. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe are the couple who receives help from Ray Liotta’s friendly cop following the burglary, but then he gets a bit *too* friendly. Taking a keen, perverse interest in Stowe, he latches himself onto their lives and eventually becomes violent and unstable in this harrowing tale of one officer of the law who forgot about protecting and serving.

5. Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

It’s kind of an unconventional choice for a home invasion flick, but the vibe is technically there and I’ve always really liked it and found it to be unfairly bashed. Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone move their kids (Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson) to a creaky old mansion in the countryside for some rest and readjusting. Scary local redneck Stephen Dorff grew up there though, and he isn’t quite ready to move on, let alone watch another family set up camp and start renovating. So begins a relentless series of stalker moves, creep out moments and serious violations of privacy that start to turn violent. It’s essentially a pretty predictable Hollywood thriller but the spooky rural atmosphere is something I’ve always liked and you get a cool Christopher Plummer cameo too.

4. Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours

One of Cimino’s less celebrated films is a remake of an oldie with Humphrey Bogart about three murderous burglars who take a suburban family hostage. Here the lead criminal is Mickey Rourke, the family patriarch Anthony Hopkins and the tone is very broad and melodramatic, but still a lot of fun. Any middle of the road film will get points for having a top notch cast and the players here are all terrific including Elias Koteas, David Morse, Lindsay Crouse, Dean Norris, Shawnee Smith, James Rebhorn, Mimi Rogers and Kelly Lynch.

3, Brian Bertino’s The Strangers

This sensational horror/shocker taps into everyone’s primal fear of being stalked by killers in their own home, and leaves a brutally nihilistic lasting impression. With an auburn, earthy visual tone, nods to 70’s horror films of the same style and a believable central performance from Liv Tyler, this one hits all the right notes and cultivates a terrifically hopeless sense of dread.

2. Florent Siri’s Hostage

This isn’t your garden variety Bruce Willis action picture. Buried cleverly in and around the tale of a hostage negotiator (Willis) trying to rescue an innocent family from three dangerous juvenile criminals is something almost noirish, expressionist in nature and akin to a horror movie in places. The house that these guys break into is a specifically designed labyrinth of shadows, walls and security traps that prove hard to navigate for all parties involved and makes an evocative setting while Willis gives one of his best, most haunted performances on record and Ben Foster makes chilling work of the lead antagonist who is a devilish psychopath.

1. David Fincher’s Panic Room

The bar is set here in terms of home invasion thrillers, and pretty damn high too. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart (for the second time on this list!) retreat to the titular stronghold within their NYC home and fight for their lives against three evil professional thieves (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto). The suspense here is just unreal, this should be in textbooks on how to craft an effective, aesthetically pleasing thriller that keeps you on edge the whole time.

Thanks for reading!

-Nate Hill

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Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

Joel Schumacher used to be a household name amongst Hollywood directors, and then kind of sailed off the face of the map (Coppola seems to have done the same). He was one of the most prolific filmmakers of the 80’s and 90’s and then it cooled off in recent years, but he still churns out a flick or three now and again, one of which is the high gloss home invasion thriller Trespass. It’s in the vein of Cimino’s Desperate Hours, not just for having an almost identical premise but also for the fact that it’s not a great movie, but one that services the genre nicely, gives the crowd just what they’d expect from this fare and even throws in a few earned surprises. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy couple who live in a fortress of a house that comes under siege from three rabid criminals who are after… something. Is it the alleged diamonds in Cage’s impenetrable safe? Is it the money he claims is all gone or stuck into his lavish home? Or is something darker at stake here? The guessing game that ensues is pretty well done, with perspective flashbacks and red herrings used nicely. The burglars are played by a quartet of the excellent Ben Mendelsohn who give yet another sketchy, terrifying villain portrait, fondly remembered TV actress Jordana Spiro, The always reliable Dash Mihok and Cam Gigandet, who sadly keeps getting casted in stuff way beyond his talent level. His psycho/pretty boy role here is one of the most demanding parts in the script and the guy just doesn’t have anything under the hood except for his looks (see Pandorum for another painful case of him ruining a well written role). Kidman is wistful and scared, doing the same thing she did in Dead Calm without the cold resilience, while Cage does crazy to a T, no surprise there. I heard that midway through filming he suddenly wanted to switch to one of the villain roles, and didn’t get his way. I laughed upon hearing him bellow out ‘shit-hole’ in that maniacally screechy, petulant way of his and I pictured him having a tantrum at the producers for not giving in. This is a humdrum flick that isn’t built to last or make huge impressions, but it serves as an energetic, well mounted domestic siege thriller with enough violence and commotion to keep eyelids from dropping.

-Nate Hill

Walter Hill’s Trespass


Walter Hill’s Trespass could raise a pulse in a quiet graveyard, it’s so relentless. It’s one of those single location, breathless siege thrillers where two unlucky dudes, this time Bill Paxton and William Sadler, are barricaded in some unfortunate building while hordes of inner city criminals try to smoke them out. Billy and Willy are two firemen in the wrongest of places at the wrongest of times, led to a dilapidated St. Louis warehouse in search of a hidden cache of stolen gold. When one of them stumbles into a gangland assassination, the two are immediately branded as witnesses and hinted like dogs by boss King James (a snarling Ice-T), his lieutenant Savon (Ice Cube) and armies of their men. That’s pretty much the premise, and simple as it is, action maestro Hill turns it into a ballistic bloodbath that barely slows down for a second once it gets going. Paxton and Sadler are soon at each other’s throats in a feverish haze of adrenaline, whilst the two Ices argue amongst themselves about tactical logistics. Yelling, shooting, running, borderline parkour, cat and mouse games, beloved 90’s action tropes and fight scenes that almost wind the audience as much as the characters. This is a lean cut of a film, concerned only with thrilling the pants off the viewer, hurtling by at a locomotive’s pace without rest until that final shell casing hits the pavement. 
-Nate Hill