A nice thing about Adam Schindler’s home invasion thriller – scripted by T.J. Cimfel and David White (who contributed an episode to V/H/S Viral) – is that it has more than one trick up its sleeve. At various times, it echoes The Desperate Hours, Lady in a Cage, A Perfect Getaway, Home Alone or The People Under the Stairs … but it’s a refreshingly new take on the crowded sub-genre.
Haunted Anna (Beth Riesgraf) hasn’t left her rambling family home in ten years, since the death of her abusive father, and can’t even go outside on the day her protective brother Conrad (Timothy T. McKinney), who has just died after a long bout with cancer, is buried. A chain of events is started when Anna owns up to her agoraphobia to Dan (Rory Culkin), the friendly and funny meals on wheels delivery boy who seems to have a crush on her – he admits he’d like to leave town, and she carelessly offers him a paper bag of cash she happens to have lying around. He turns it down …but when Anna is supposed to be at the funeral, three crooks – the controlling J.B. (Jack Kesy), his younger brother Vance (Joshua Mikel) and the bearded, sardonic Perry (Martin Starr) – show up to steal her money stash and are surprised and annoyed to find she has had a panic attack and been unable to leave the house. Opinions differ among thieves, but Perry insists they have to kill Anna – though she proves hard to get hold of, since she knows her own house a lot better than they do. Dan shows up, having been responsible for all this by telling Vance about the money, not thinking through what this will mean for Anna – who plainly doesn’t care about the cash (J.B. and Perry talk about making a thorough search for what they assume is hidden treasure when the bag is on the table in front of them) but does want to get through the day alive. A decent amount of suspense is had in the shifting of loyalties and intents among the crooks — and an excruciating moment as Anna is unable to step over her own threshhold and make a run for freedom even when staying in the house is likely to mean certain death. When Perry offers to effect an instant cure by dragging her onto the porch, she freezes, wets herself and has subjective hallucinations that convey her acute condition, and it becomes apparent that the reasons why she suffers as she does are rooted in darker crimes than burglary.
Leading the crooks into the basement, Anna – who wears a mourning dress throughout – mysteriously manages to get upstairs, open a puzzle box to find a key which she uses on a mechanism in a clock – and the stairs to the basement recede like a cliffhanger death-trap, leaving the trio (Vance is fatally wounded) trapped with Dan pushed in and dislocating his knee to share their fate. Discovering a replica of Anna’s childhood bedroom (but with a two-way mirror and furniture bolted to the floor) and a torture chamber in the basement, the invaders conclude that Anna and Conrad were a serial-killing couple … which turns out to be close to the mark, but not quite the case. The game of who’s-got-the-upper-hand tilts several ways throughout the film, and the suspense situation is used to expose and develop the characters. A climactic struggle between Anna and J.B., who have both recently lost brothers, leads to a cathartic conflagration that might cure Anna’s neurosis so long as she’s alive to walk away. Riesgraf, not an overfamiliar actress, is excellent in a complicated role – Anna is an imperilled heroine, but might also be the real monster in the house – and the quartet of menaces are interestingly varied, so there’s a real sense of betrayal when Anna finds that the likeable Dan is even peripherally responsible for her sufferings. Starr brings an unusual, nastily comic edge to the seemingly most dangerous character, who is naturally the most annoyed when his helpless victim traps and torments him. Art direction is especially good, with a lot of clever little detail – and Schindler uses the space inside the house very cleverly: note the moment when Anna is able to hide simply by stepping round a corner into a blind spot.