I really wanted to like this one. Not only did the plot summary sound interesting, but it never hurts to have some British eye-candy as the male lead. I never watched Downton Abbey so I had no idea who Dan Stevens was, but shirtless blond guys are always a good thing when they look like this:
Seriously though; the movie has gotten some mixed reviews, including a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a lot of trash-talking on IMDb, but at first glance it looks like yet another iteration of the home invasion thriller sub-genre, and I generally enjoy those. It’s also been described as akin to Cabin in the Woods, which I didn’t exactly fall in love with because the whole meta thing goes way over my head (hence why I’m not a Community fan, either), and apparently has also been compared to other movies that reference older films or satirize genre stereotypes. Either way, I had to judge for myself.
I have to say, I found zero similarity to any of these movies, and absolutely nothing resembling satire; if anything, the story is as straight-forward as it can get and the movie takes itself way too seriously. If it’s supposed to be an homage to classic home invasion movies, then the only elements pointing in that direction are the stilted acting and major plot holes.
That’s not the film’s major flaw though; rather, it’s the fact that the end product is simply disjointed and uneven, with a first half planted firmly in the mystery genre and a second half that’s a combination action movie/slasher flick, with the requisite unbelievable ending and a very unsatisfactory explanation that fails to wrap things up neatly.
To be fair, it’s not all bad.
The cinematography and overall style are perfectly fine, it has a killer soundtrack and the characters appear to have room for development, at least in the beginning.
But as promising as the first half of the movie is, what follows is just a string of clichés, with two-dimensional characters and very predictable (yet solid) action sequences.
The movie begins with an unexpected guest arriving at the Peterson family home, whose son Caleb died while serving in the Middle East. The stranger, who introduces himself as David and claims to be Caleb’s old army buddy, is affable enough, handsome and polite, and quickly gains the family’s trust. Having nowhere else to go, he is invited to stay with the family for a few days.
Even if every summary or trailer out there didn’t explicitly hint that something’s not right with ‘David’ or his story, it would be hard to miss the musical cues or David’s empty stares (and even sinister looks) when no one’s watching, so when he starts acting weird, it’s really no surprise to anyone.
David ingratiates himself with the whole family, particularly the youngest son, Luke, who’s being bullied at school. His efforts to befriend the daughter, Anna, aren’t as successful; she remains reproachful, and then becomes downright suspicious when she overhears a strange phone call.
Soon after David’s arrival, a series of accidental and seemingly unrelated events occur, and Anna’s suspicions grow.
Up until this point, the movie isn’t bad at all. We still don’t know who this ‘David’ person is and why he showed up at the Peterson family’s door. And then it all just unravels.
Anna decides to take action and investigate the charming stranger. She calls the army base where David claims he was stationed to make inquiries, and finds out that whoever this stranger says he is, he’s not David, as David is actually dead.
What happens next is what’s your expect from this movie, with David’s violent side – previously only apparent under specific circumstances – taking over, Luke placing his trust in his new-found ally, Anna clearly mistrustful of the stranger and, of course, the military rushing to take control of the situation, which may or may not be a cover-up for some clandestine operation.
After the requisite rain of bullets, with “David” on a single-minded mission to kill the Peterson family as well as the army guys, we find out that he was a former test subject for a ‘military health program‘, who’s been conditioned to kill everyone he came in contact with, in the event his identity is compromised.
Okay, let’s say we buy that. We still get no answer as to why he sought out the Petersons in the first place, or what his plan was; what would have happened if Anna had been as gullible as the rest of her family and welcomed him with open arms?
Even that plot point alone is ludicrous, by the way. You’d think the dad would be more cautious about letting this guy sleep under the same roof as his pretty 20-year-old daughter. And don’t get me started at how stupid the mother was right up until her demise. Luke was the worst of the bunch: when it becomes evident that David killed all these people, he tells him that he ‘doesn’t care’. Because of course, who cares about a few murders if David can take care of Luke’s bullying problem. Is everyone in this family retarded?
Having killed both the Peterson parents (and apologized before stabbing the mom and shooting the dad), David goes in search of the kids. The climax of the movie takes place in the Halloween maze Luke helped build at school as part of his detention punishment. I have to say, the maze was pretty creepy, and a great location for the final shoot-out. Naturally the army guy in charge bites the dust and the kids manage to escape, with Anna shooting the already wounded David, who apparently drops dead as the kids are led to safety outside.
But the villain can’t just die from a measly gunshot or two now, can he? Of course not – where’s the fun in that? The requisite ‘twist’ comes in the form of the overused cliche of having the bad guy survive, with the fatally wounded David simply walking out of the school in a fireman disguise, as Anna looks at him horrified and the end credits roll.
Was the director’s intention to leave this idiotic final scene open-ended? Are we supposed to believe that this guy has superhuman abilities that extend beyond his battle skills to actually surviving bullets to the chest? Or was the army dude’s explanation a cover story for some kind of Terminator-like program that produces droids who become bullet-proof (and charming!) homicidal maniacs?
Either way, what started out with some potential ended up being a total dud, which I find even more aggravating than a out-and-out bad movie. If it was indeed a satire of the genre, then it seems that it was only unintentionally so, as if the director decided to switch gears halfway through the film because he couldn’t drive the original plot home with any conviction. In the absence of any comedic element or even a wink to the audience, I’m inclined to say this wasn’t the case; in the end, it was just a disappointing movie that failed to realize its potential.