With You’re Next finally getting released, it’s best to look at the subgenre that it’s a part of. After two years of sitting on a shelf at Lionsgate during a merge, You’re Next has patiently waited to come out to deconstruct the home invasion horror. Sitting around for two years though has caused some problems. Since then, studios have tried to capitalise on its success at Toronto International Film Festival by hiring people to write a similar film. If you even look at Twitter, there are a few accusatory tweets at it because of The Purge, which has caused (ignorant) people to declare their disdain for You’re Next for copying The Purge, even though it’s two years its senior. There was even a slight script slip where a group of filmmakers may or may not have tried to copy the film identically but failed.
Home invasion is an awkward subgenre because it’s loose and uncomfortable to really define. Obviously it means invading someone’s home but if we go by Wikipedia’s list of home invasion films (which we won’t but kind of are), they call Law Abiding Citizen a home invasion film but there’s only scene which is the motivation for the rest. That means that Memento is a home invasion film too. By that standard there are a lot of revenge films that could be considered home invasion films. Another that could be considered a home invasion franchise is Scream. Ghostface invades the victims’ homes but it’s multiple homes which means it isn’t entirely focused on the act of invading someone’s personal bubble. Our definition and rules for a home invasion film are that they invade one home in the film because then it focuses on the invasion of a sanctuary.
With Memento, Scream and Law Abiding Citizen out of contention then it’s time to whittle down all of the films featuring a home invasion. From thrillers, to dramas to horrors - the reason why we are here. There are a surprising amount of home invasion films and when I took on this task I binged on them and have still been binging on them, catching most. There are many that didn’t make the cut. There are some that may surprise and some that may not but feel free to join in, to pass your thoughts on your favourites onwards. This is my Top 10 Home Invasion Films.
10. Martyrs (2008)
Extremely violent from the beginning, it rarely lets up on the violent front but it seems it’s a film of two halves. The first half is a violent revenge home invasion horror that even has flashes of psychosis but to talk about the second half would ruin the incredible surprise that it has in store for the viewer. It’s a genre switch that will divide people as it slows down to become a much more thought-out horror film with philosophical musings alongside to its non-stop brutality. Intelligence is necessary in a film like this to stop it from slipping into something that you will know as the wrongly termed “torture porn” that’s grotesque to exploit and to be reactionary. Purposefully incendiary works garner a backlash often, which is what is wanted but there’s a calculated thought process behind all the violence depicted in the film. It delves into more themes and more ideas to give an opinion on religion, ideology, fanaticism and martyrdom. Thought-provoking, difficult to watch and scary, it’s a more intelligent horror film which could have explored more if it hadn’t had so much damn screaming in it.
9. The Strangers (2008)
Liv Tyler is less than a reputable actress. Her monotonous wispy voice is usually delicately grating because of its consistency and complete lack of emotion. In The Strangers, there’s something new about her. She plays a pretty typical character in the horror genre - a girl under attack which leads to heavy breathing, crying and screaming - but she does it well. A lot of horror films fall at having a bad actress or actor running around disingenuously trying to sell something they don’t quite believe themselves, but it seems Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (as her boyfriend) believe that it’s actually happening to them. It’s really interestingly shot and it tries to avoid cheap jump scares although it indulges in a couple - one of which ruins a lot of its good work. As masks come in and out of view as they come in and out to play, there’s a real tingle as you spot something in the background. It may be a little typical but it’s well executed, it accomplishes everything basic brilliantly. A problem it does have is the masked people are given an otherworldly presence which isn’t fitting of its tone nor setting.
8. Fear (1996)
This film has felt heavily ignored but I have no clue why. We’re watching “Marky Mark” Wahlberg play one of his most disturbing, twisted roles to date, one which really shows he has depth, range and an ability to scare the life out of you with a stare. It even has a great eclectic cast of under-appreciated talent like William L. Petersen, Amy Brenneman and Alyssa Milano; they’re the support to the love story of Reese Witherspoon and Wahlberg. It’s no way a typical romance story because it isn’t really romantic. Every smirk that casts itself upon Wahlberg’s face is an ominous foreshadowing of what’s to come in the later stages. This is a cathartic experience played in such menacing fashion that if it were tangible then it would break your arm then twist it to make sure you felt the pain. It may feel similar, it may have a couple of archetypes, and it may be slightly typical but it is one of the more effective horror-thrillers to come out of the ’90s that’s been wrongly ignored since.
7. Manhunter (1986)
Brian Cox is the first person to play Hannibal Lecter (Lecktor in this) on screen which is an adaptation of the Red Dragon book. Michael Mann has William L. Petersen as FBI specialist Will Graham pursuing a serial killer who seems to be selecting his victims at random. This may not be traditional home invasion but it is about a serial killer who invades the victims’ homes to then murder them brutally. Mann’s pulsing ’80s score and interesting cinematographer leads to a much better adaptation of the famous book. It is one of the most ’80s films ever created, with the visual flair and vibe of the decade. Chasing a shadow who watches and eludes is an infuriating task for a family man who is too obsessed with the case to be that husband-dad combo that’s really needed. It’s a nice character story which shows the villain to have the same vulnerability as everyone else, he is a human suffering too. Psychosis is on both sides of this film but Will Graham has a badge and a right to carry a gun as he steps into the killer’s mind to attempt to out-think him.
6. Panic Room (2002)
David Fincher’s work is always fantastic. Alien³ isn’t really his baby but one he looked after briefly for the studio that was dying to make another sequel to the franchise. This is Fincher’s most commercial film to date; it’s more of a conventional thriller set in a house invaded by three unlikely robbers (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto in cornrows, and Dwight Yoakam) while Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart try to hide out in a panic room. That premise seems flimsy and thin but there’s a lot that happens which doesn’t feel phony but authentic. There are arguments between the characters which are interesting, tense moments stretched out to be agonising by using slow-mo effectively. Characters have dimensions which aid it being a really taut thriller even at 112 minutes. Its running time effortlessly passes by and Fincher shoots everything with interesting camerawork and CGI that makes the camera flow through impossible areas. Empty rooms which are sparsely lit, in a house that’s empty and too big, make this a wonder to look at and a maze to live in. It even has self-aware moments which feel like funny nods with its tongue in cheek at potential plot holes to confirm that this is, yes, a piece of entertainment.
5. Funny Games (1997)
Michael Haneke has been all the rage this past year or so because of the heartbreaking Amour that destroyed many filmgoers. His films have always been intelligent, subversive pieces and Funny Games is no different. It almost seems a little condescending at times; it’s perfectly self-aware and there’s a bit towards the end that may be a giant jolt in an otherwise interesting story. It’s a disturbing story that starts with a pursuit of eggs that somehow is unnerving to almost twitching levels. It carries on as such throughout with one of the most psychotically calm atmospheres that drains the performers as well as the audience. Sitting through the uncomfortable ordeal usually leads to moments of violence that we all want to see but Haneke takes great pleasure in not showing these moments but having them happen. He’s willing us to want see something so wrong that it makes you feel deranged for wanting to. Manipulating the audience in a personal manner means that you’ve gone through the ordeal as much as they have. It deconstructs the genre intelligently to give you chills, making everything ordinary have a creepiness. Prepare to have this in your head for days.
4. Inside [À l’intérieur] (2007)
A pregnant woman loses her husband in a car crash and is then left alone in her house with a baby due at any moment. While France is being torn apart by angry rioters, Sarah (Alysson Paradis) has her home invaded and tormented by an unknown assailant. This film is stunning to look at. It’s dark but has a sleek feel to its contemporary setting, the cinematography managing to make everything look interesting, every shadow looking menacing. Everything is graphically violent as well but it manages to capture it in an oddly artistic way. Blood sprays in a seemingly controlled splatter to decorate. Its finale is a clumsy cacophony instead of crescendo to an otherwise well orchestrated concerto. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury really have a handle on the material to push it to its limits in exhilarating fashion; creating an eerie atmosphere early to then drench it in blood, blood and more blood. It’s cynical, twisted, nihilistic, scary, creepy and bone-shudderingly gory. One hell of a twisted film to add to the horror collection.
3. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock was obsessed with the perfect murder. Most of the film is played out in the living room area where there are conversations upon conversations but they’re all intriguing, beguilingly peculiar, bewitchingly transfixing, befittingly malevolent. Playing out unlike any of the other home invasion films on this list is what makes this one of the best of the subgenre. A much more thoughtful, provocative drama than thriller that involves very little violence but a lot of investigation which twists words, phrases and evidence from theory to theory. Constantly intriguing, misdirecting and masterfully crafted, the Master of Suspense always managed to trick and deceive the audience by manipulating them in his hands like putty. There’s no feeling like being taken into a story that’s wonderfully crafted, that thrills you by its manipulation and has you almost applauding the screen at its handiwork. I’m smirking right now at it.
2. You’re Next (2011)
The cause of this list isn’t in vain either because it’s easily one of the best and most refreshing entries to the subgenre, as well as one of the best horror films of the year. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have unintentionally created a feminist horror by having an unlikely protagonist in the form of Sharni Vinson, quiet and smiling until the bolt comes through the window, transforming her into what’s necessary to survive in the circumstances. Horror usually suffers from women being written to wail, to get hurt, to create certain fantasies. They’re expendable nothings that usually have to be celibate to survive because a stunted sexuality is their only survival. Thankfully that’s not the case with a great horror that’s graphic, scary and filled with genuine laughs, which You’re Next neatly presents. There’s such fun to be had in this violent indie horror. It’s like if Home Alone was an 18, using the resources at hand for protection.
1. Home Alone (1990)
How could we forget the adorable Macaulay Culkin Christmas classic? We couldn’t! Ignoring it would be ignoring a staple part of the home invasion subgenre that managed to make it hilariously violent with slapstick silliness that’s been a part of many families’ Christmas tradition - including my own; we double bill this and its sequel every year. Empowering to children everywhere, it instilled hope in them that if they were ever in a moment of crisis that they would use their Scaletrix to devastating effect. Obviously, they wouldn’t get back up if we did but it taught us to protect ourselves as well as to not wrongly assume someone is a bad person from the way they look. We learn that not everyone is who they seem on the outside, judging people on it is wrong too, as Culkin forges a friendship stronger than any other in his network with an unlikely character. Feeling alienated by your own family is something that many - especially the youngest child - can relate to, one which I did to great effect as a child and still do. Suck-up older brothers suck. Family filmmaking at its best, to show the importance of words, of family, and a way to make anything into a weapon.
Now, you may be thinking of a film that’s not included on this list that’s almost a ghastly omission for most but not for myself. Straw Dogs (1971) is a home invasion classic for the most, woven by the hand of Sam Peckinpah in a delightful fashion and I did enjoy the majority of the film but there’s one glaringly graphic scene that actually ruins the entire film by being grossly and majorly wrong. The scene in question is obviously the rape scene that is portrayed in such an uncomfortable manner that the rest of the film is hard to enjoy after the sour taste of misogynistic rape myths are glamorised. Its editing, direction, writing and performances leave you to believe that it’s a much less traumatising experience at the time. Undoing all of the hard work, the atmosphere, the characters all created beforehand by the clumsy, ignorant, sexist portrayal of a disturbingly violent act being enjoyed. We do see it being portrayed a little more negatively after that scene but the damage is already done which unfortunately for me, leaves me completely uncomfortable condoning a film with an inaccurate scene.