One major trend over the last five years or so of horror films has been the home-invasion thriller, in which an upper-middle-class family is terrorised for no good reason by ne’er-do-wells, a classic nightmare. The plot set-up can be either non-existent, as in The Strangers, or distractingly ridiculous, as in The Purge (crime is legal for 12 hours annually – clearly an executive order signed by President Snow). But clearly home-invasion is becoming as played-out a horror trope as the slasher or mad-scientist film, because it is represented this year only by vaguely deconstructive examples. In Shut In, a severe agoraphobic is targeted by a trio of lovably bungling burglars, until she turns things around on them and traps them in her purpose-built torture chamber. It’s exactly the sort of wholesome fun we’d expect to see in the classic Home Alone franchise, an association only underlined by the presence of Rory Culkin as her Meals-on-Wheels guy, enthusiastic about tater tots but disparaging about stroganoff. I’d say he must have things backwards but, if he’s anything like his more famous brother, then he’s probably just disappointed it isn’t pizza. In any case, it isn’t Culkin who impresses in Shut In but rather, Beth Riesgraf as the eponymous recluse. Despite the revelations of the final act being almost impossible to take seriously – to the point of harming the picture as it has unfolded up to that point – the film’s premise is such a killer one that one feels there was no way out of the picture but disappointment.
Also struggling with disappointment on its way out is The Diabolical, a James Wan-esque haunted-house exercise which also displays the seminal influence of Home Alone as our heroes, for once, fight back against the unwanted intruder, setting traps with nails and broken glass. It’s that part of the film which earnt it a place on the home-invasion section of this write-up, not least because that was easily the most entertaining and inventive part of the film. It would be nice to be able to say that the science-fiction twist this film gives its haunting is just as inventive, but despite some neat ideas it’s all a little rushed and underdeveloped. Still, a sequel is apparently planned, and if all goes well then hopefully it will be like Insidious: Chapter 2, using time-travel in a way that actually deepens the story of the first film, as opposed to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, whose time-travel was nonsense out the blue.
Third and best of the home-invasions was Slumlord, in which an expecting couple move into a beautiful dream house whose one drawback is its ultra-creepy landlord, played with a series of grunts by Neville Archambaut. With a network of fibre-optic cameras secreted all over the house, he is watching the couple’s movements – including, of course, their shower and toilet – and spending an increasing amount of time in what is supposedly the owner’s closet, actually a secret basement with soundproofing. Whenever the couple’s out, the Slumlord loves nothing better than to come to the house, feed their dog, and touch their things, even going so far as to lick the wife’s toothbrush, in what has to be the high-point of the general atmosphere of violation sustained throughout. As happens so often with other films of its genre, Slumlord succumbs to implausibility in its final act, but up to that point is so nasty, dirty and uncomfortable that it’s scarcely a criticism worth making. More bothersome to me was the Slumlord himself, who seemed a bit of a cartoon character in a film whose primary effect is the gnawing paranoiac knowledge that this could easily be happening to you.