This home invasion thriller, scripted by Corey Deshon and directed by Orson Oblowitz, has an appropriately messy, connect-the-dots plot going on as an undercurrent to the collision of a group of people who split into three or four factions with alliances and enmities but never manage to sort out for themselves who’s on who’s side and what’s actually going on … until it’s pretty much too late for anyone to do anything about it.
Intense Sarah (Angela Trimbur), traumatised by a recent miscarriage, and her slightly insensitive husband Joseph (Zach Avery) take a weekend lease on a remote but classy desert home to try to get their marriage back on track. Perhaps inadvisably, Sarah invites along her long-time friend Estelle (Janel Parrish), with whom Joseph had a fling she doesn’t know about, and Estelle’s boyfriend Victor (Jonathan Howard), a raging cokehead asshole. A prologue featuring masked cartel-type killers – the new go-to demonic baddies now Russian mafia types are off the boil – and hints of something amiss about the house suggest other eyes are on the menage, but they are so focused on their hothouse emotional woes and different attitudes to relationships and grief they don’t notice. There’s a ring at the door, and – though the dickhead in the party insists it’d be stupid to let a stranger in late at night, Sarah lets in an odd, quirky woman (Fairuza Balk) who uses that old Clockwork Orange line about having broken down and needing to use the phone. She starts giving unwanted relationships advice, wandering off into other rooms, and making odd, contradictory statements, and Victor boils over – leading to an escalation of argument, violence, shifts of balance of power, a gory accident, semi-justified stabbings, gun-wavings and revelations, even before a plausibly sinister cop (Carlo Rota) and his straight-arrow sidekick (Sebastian Sozzi) arrive to ask a lot of questions the group find hard to answer. Then, the machete murderers show up, and it turns into a familiar, but effective survival game.
The location is slightly reminiscent of the recent Revenge, but the horror goes down in a different way – with a neat mcguffin involving outmoded recording tech, and a refreshing refusal to overexplain. There are patches where the loose cannon characters – Howard, Balk, Rota – get meaty near-monologues, which are almost as destabilising and disturbing as the outright acts of violence. We get a few old favourite tropes – having to crawl over broken glass, a stabfest in the swimming pool (a little like a scene in The Strangers Prey at Night), a Russian roulette variant, tied-to-a-chair scenes – and sometimes the agony is prolonged by having characters vacillate or blunder. Oblowitz makes some clever style choices – after a bit of Chekovian set-up about the iffy power supply in this earthquake zone, the lights go out at the worst possible time then the rest of the film is lit with giallo-like purple gels that pass off as emergency lighting. Joey Abril, with tattoos and gold teeth, seems to have dedicated his life to taking over from Noel Guglielmi as the most typecast latino gangbanger in the movies – and makes for a menacing, unsubtle, almost comic presence.