Dennis Quaid Gives a Performance That Deserves a Better Movie

Directed by Deon Taylor / 2019

Alfred Hitchcock had a very simple definition of the difference between surprise and suspense. Two people are sitting at a table and suddenly a bomb goes off killing them. That’s surprise. Suspense is when the audience knows there is a bomb under the table, and the people sitting there do not. In The Intruder, the people look under the table, see the bomb and then invite it in for pizza.

The Intruder contains its fair share of surprises, in the form of jump scares thanks to the way the villain can seemingly teleport, but it contains very little suspense. This is because our heroes treat the villain as if he was just some sort of busy body neighbor, and not like the very deranged man he clearly is from the beginning. It is the very definition of what is known as the Idiot Plot, a movie that would be over in fifteen minutes if the characters didn’t act like such idiots.

And who are our heroes? They’re Annie and Scott Russell, played by Meagan Goode (recently seen in Shazam!) and Michael Ealy (Think Like a Man). Scott just got a big bonus at work, so the Russells make the decision to buy this house in Napa Annie has her heart set on. The house’s current owner is a woodsy guy named Charlie Peck, and he’s played by Dennis Quaid (Innerspace, The Day After Tomorrow). Peck is a reluctant seller- he raised his family in that house and his wife died from cancer there the years prior. It will soon become very apparent just how unwilling Peck is to let his house go.

It is the very definition of what is known as the Idiot Plot

Before too long, there’s murder, attempted murder, attempted rape, and cigarette burns on car seats. We learn all sorts of details about Peck’s life prior to time the Russells meet him- and none of it really comes as shocking. Peck is clearly off his beam from the get go, and the more he shows up at the Russell’s new home unannounced and uninvited the more we wonder why the Russells put up with it- especially once details of Peck’s past start coming to light.

But let’s go ahead and talk about Peck, or more specifically, Quaid’s portrayal of Peck. This is one of the most unhinged performances I’ve seen in a long time – and I’ve seen Isabelle Huppert in Greta not that long ago. Whatever saving grace The Intruder has, it comes from the pleasure of watching Quaid go right off the deep end from the start. There’s the scene early on, where Scott is explaining a piece of art to Peck. While Scott goes on, the sound of his voice drops out and is replaced by a throbbing beat as Peck’s face contorts from a faux-interested smile to pursed-lips disgust, and then snaps right back into smile once Scott wraps up. Quaid does pursed-lips disgust really well. Watch how he practices his fake smile alone in his room at night- or see his real smile when he catches Annie in the shower. If The Intruder is worth seeing at all, it’s worth seeing for Quaid.

But Quaid’s performance really does deserve a better movie around it. Too much of the middle of the film is spent spinning its wheels, trying to mark time until Peck goes all Overlook Hotel on everyone. Every new revelation about Peck adds a little shading to his crazy, but it doesn’t change the way we see him. The film keeps reminding everyone that Peck is crazy, and then no one doing much of anything about it. When characters do act, they do so in remarkable stupid ways (why do these sorts of movies continually forget that cell phones exist?). It doesn’t lead to surprise or to suspense, but a never-ending sense of frustration.