Early physicians who did not understand female anatomy routinely used ‘female hysteria’ as a potent weapon against women to institutionalize them for illnesses they never had. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the American Psychiatric Association rescinded the usage of the term “hysteria” — from hystera, the Greek word for uterus — as a medical diagnosis. But, “crazy,” “neurotic,” “psychopathic” are still acceptable adjectives to describe women who don’t conform to social norms. These perceptions have wormed their way into mainstream media and inspired cinema, especially the horror genre.
Horror is a genre with a uniquely avid fandom. Sitting directly in the center of the intersection between art and commerce, horror is particularly well-suited to call out societal injustices, and it is through use of highly subversive creative techniques that many controversial stories have been told. It’s no wonder that many modern practitioners of DIY and low-budget filmmaking use the genre as a vehicle through which to deliver their message.
The story behind the movie Intruder is about a couple Scott (played by Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) who buy a house from Charlie (Dennis Quaid). They soon find out that Charlie is still very attached to his house and is in the market for a new family. Directed by Deon Taylor who also directed last years ‘Traffik’, another story of a black couple terrorized by white aggressors. In the age of filmmaking post-Jordan Peele, post-Black Lives Matter, post-Trayvon Martin, this film begs the question; Can you have a film where black people are attacked by white people and it has no racial implications?
There is a noticeable absence of racism in this film. The world in which it takes place is a world where black people are capable of achieving high-profile jobs, and affording multi-million dollar homes, with little complications. Scott and Annie’s friends are a mixed race couple and the town of Sonoma, California [which is according to the 2010 census is 86% white] is filled with people of all races and welcomes the new couple. There is no hint of racism in the tension between Scott and Annie and Charlie, never is “you don’t belong here” or “you’re not the right kind to live in my house” ever uttered. Charlie is in fact, infatuated with Annie and wants to make her his new wife. It seems like in saying nothing, the film is saying a lot. It felt like watching a movie as a white person, being able to enjoy the action and characters devoid of all racial consciousness. I was waiting for something, anything to acknowledge that the characters were originally black in the script but nothing happened. Even when Scott and Annie were alone, they never mentioned their own blackness. It felt like this movie takes place in another dimension. A dimension where the trans-Atlantic slave trade never happened and despite the fact that it was distractingly absent, it was also refreshing. Contrary to the complaints of racists, but black people don’t want to complain about injustice all day long. We would also like to live in a world unburdened by the heavyweight and historical trauma of racism. This films genre is a thriller but it could also be called something else, Black Escapist Fantasy.
Intruder feels like the thrillers of the ’80s like Fatale Attraction or The Step-Father. It is no more complicated than it seems, there is no political or cultural knowledge necessary to understand this film, you’re getting exactly what you see. In one scene it’s revealed that Scott doesn’t like guns because his brother was shot by one. There’s no more information on that, was it police violence, gang violence, a domestic dispute, road rage? It sounds like the opposite of an NRA slogan, in this instance, a gun did just kill a person. So now Scott won’t use guns, but Charlie loves guns so one of the points of tension is will Scott use a gun to defend his home? The gun concept comes up so much, you just know the movie will end with Scott using a gun on Charlie. There are very little surprises in the movie, the asshole best friend dies, Charlie never left the home he’s been in the basement the whole time, and he’s been lying about the death of his wife and the relationship with his daughter. The movie is as predictable as you can get. Despite that, the audience I saw it with was along for the ride each step of the way. There were jump scares and each one made the audience jump like programming. It made the movie enjoyable, like watching a person go through a haunted house. You know the scares are hollow but seeing a person scream from a bat on a string makes you laugh. I doubt the filmmakers want to make their audience laugh but getting a reaction out of this “paint-by-numbers” thriller is better than nothing.
‘Intruder’ is nowhere near a poignant or affecting movie as ‘Get Out’ or ‘Gone Girl’. It has bite but no venom. A movie that entertains as easily as it’s forgotten, like a carnival ride, once the scares are gone it’s over. This movie’s only lingering effect on me was that it served to remind me what a shame it is that we don’t live in a world where Michael Ealy is a leading man. He deserves to be. He’s just as talented as any white guy named Chris and much more attractive. His face, with those dark blue eyes, draws you in and makes you sympathetic. He has all the makings of a Hollywood leading man, except a single thing. He’s not who people think of when one says “Hollywood leading man”. He’s black and historically that’s the single disqualifier for entry into that group. He could lead a film, he has the presence and the looks. In whatever world this movie comes from, where race is no factor, perhaps there would be space for Michael Ealy too.
Tim Burton is one of modern filmmaking’s best-known directors — largely because his films all look like Tim Burton films. It’s hard to find a recent director whose distinct visual aesthetic has become so universally, immediately recognizable. Even in his new live-action Disney film Dumbo, which is something of a departure from Burton’s previous work — it’s a remake that doubles as a careful critique of its predecessor — it can still easily be called “Burton-esque,” like all of his movies.