Since Audrey Hepburn fought off violent criminals in 1967’s Wait Until Dark, the home-invasion thriller has been a staple of horror. From Straw Dogs to The Strangers, Hollywood has exploited the suburban nightmare of ‘others’ invading the domestic sphere. And just when the subgenre was losing steam, a handful of filmmakers found ways to subvert our expectations. Both You’re Next and Don’t Breathe pulled off clever reversals of fortune as they turned the tables on their home invaders. New genre favourite Mike Flanagan then took a page from Wait Until Dark, introducing a similar twist to Hush. Apparently, not even the British can resist a good home invasion thriller. Starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, RLJE Films released The Owners last year – a home invasion thriller sharing quite a bit of DNA with Don’t Breathe.
Down-on-their luck thugs Gaz, Terry, and Nathan plan an easy score to turn their fortunes around. According to Terry, his mother works at a countryside house where an elderly couple have a windfall locked in a safe. But the trio’s plans quickly go awry. First, Terry’s pregnant girlfriend, Mary, show up unexpectedly. Despite finding the safe, none of the would-be-thieves can open it. Then the elderly couple, Dr Richard and his wife Ellen, suddenly return home. But Gaz isn’t willing to walk away without his money. Unfortunately, Dr Higgins may be hiding something more than money in the safe. It’s a secret that quickly turns the tables on the young criminals.
The Owners Is Unbearably Tense But Can’t Sustain Its Atmosphere
For half of its screen time, The Owners proves to be pretty riveting stuff. Despite its best efforts, The Owners won’t shake the comparisons to Don’t Breathe. But once director Julius Berg gets his young thugs into the house, his thriller diverts from its American counterpart. Specifically, Berg places less focus on elaborately staged jumps and cleverly executed white-knuckle moments. Instead, The Owners slows things down to allow its audience to sit uncomfortably while the more violent Gaz takes over. The 15 minutes or so that The Owners dedicates to Gaz’s cruelty over his mates and the elderly couple is defined by a palpable atmosphere. Moreover, Berg introduces uncertainty to his thriller while teasing doubt about the true vulnerability of his elderly couple.
…Berg places less focus on elaborately staged jumps and cleverly executed white-knuckle moments. Instead, The Owners slows things down to allow its audience to sit uncomfortably while the more violent Gaz takes over.
However, once The Owners’ turns the tables on its criminals, the movie stalls. If its first half overcomes familiarity with tense drama, Berg’s second-half finally caves under the pressure of comparison. Maybe The Owners removes some characters from the mix too soon. Or perhaps the elderly Dr Higgins and confused Ellen make for less compelling villains. Regardless The Owners loses a lot of that early tension as the movie progresses. Without Don’t Breathe’s elaborately suspenseful set-pieces, you’re left waiting for Berg to reveal what’s in the safe. And while the movie’s reveal is an admittedly disturbing turn, it comes much too late. At this point, The Owners already feels like it has overstayed its welcome.
The Owners Proves That a British Accent Everything Better
As compared to Don’t Breath or You’re Next, The Owners is clearly a smaller production. With its constrained but still gruesome action, The Owners takes a quieter approach to its material. Fewer edits and jumps and the use of silence in many of its pivotal scenes allows Berg to create a more uncomfortable atmosphere. As The Owners drags into its back half, however, it clearly misses some of the bigger set-pieces from it contemporaries. Based on a graphic novel Une Nuit de Plene Lune, three different writers adapted the source material. Yet works on the pages doesn’t always translate to the screen. Pacing issues crop up late in The Owners. And its inevitable twist feels somewhat implausible for a movie that grounded itself more than other home invasion movies.
Game of Thrones alum Maisie Williams proves she’s ready for life beyond Arya Stark.
If the movie plays out unevenly, The Owners’ cast is uniformly strong from top to bottom. Game of Thrones alum Maisie Williams proves she’s ready for life beyond Arya Stark. She delivers a mature and emotionally complex performance. She’s alternately vulnerable and self-reliant making for a compelling character. Both Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who) and Rita Tushingham, as the elderly Huggins, are similarly excellent as victims turned predators. Their roles call for a mix of emotionality and subtly, which both actors oblige. All three of the movie’s young thugs are convincing. Unknown Jake Curran (Gaz) is a particularly good mix of sleaze and menace.
The Owners a Capable Home Invasion Thriller That Falls Short of Great
For 45 minutes or so, The Owners is a hidden gem of a home invasion thriller. As the movie slows down, however, The Owners becomes a bit plodding. Additionally, it precariously verges on pulpy without the other over-the-top excesses that might let one forgive its unnecessary twist. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough here to warrant a watch. Strong performances, capable direction, and extended moments of uncomfortable tension, elevate The Owners above most similar thrillers. If it falls short of great, horror fans should still invite The Owners for an evening.