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Film Reviews The Intruder offers Dennis Quaid a different, more poisonous sort of Parent Trap

Dennis Quaid stars in The Intruder.

Serguei Baschlakov/Sony Pictures

  • The Intruder
  • Directed by Deon Taylor
  • Starring Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid and Michael Ealy
  • Classification PG
  • 102 minutes

rating

Audiences of my generation will remember Dennis Quaid as a convivial and caring dad in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, a family film in which the actor, beaming, greets his long-lost daughter, Annie, played by Lindsay Lohan, at the Napa County Airport, unaware of the altruistic identity fraud being waged by Annie and her twin.

Two decades later, Quaid finds himself once again playing a Napa Valley father in The Intruder. This time, his daughter has legally changed her name so that he can’t find her, and he’s the one keeping secrets. Quaid’s character, Charlie, a rugged and widowed retiree, sells his beloved family home to a young nouveau riche couple who’ve relocated from San Francisco, enchanted by the fantasy of solitude in the woods. The Russell family, comprised of husband Scott and his wife, (another) Annie, first meet Charlie when he abruptly shoots a deer during their viewing of the home. After making a snarky quip about whether the couple can afford the house despite their arrival in a Mercedes, Charlie decides he wants them to take it and drops his price as a gesture of hospitality. Envisioning a life of serenity and fresh air, they accept, assuming Charlie will go away once the deal is signed and he’s no longer entitled to their property.

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A few days later, Annie sees Charlie outside cutting the lawn. Then he slyly wins an invitation to Thanksgiving. Then he stops by unannounced almost constantly, offering to show the couple where the left-behind Christmas decorations are stored and bringing Annie a pizza when he knows Scott isn’t home. Were this not a depiction of a stalker but of an overly present neighbour, the camera’s incessant reveals of Charlie ominously appearing in places he shouldn’t would be almost comical in how belaboured they are. Charlie’s malicious determination is exhausting as his perpetual disruptions force Annie and Scott to walk an anxiety-paranoia tightrope to the point of reluctant, uncomfortable acceptance. Slowly, Charlie is revealed to be dangerous and obsessive, his plans powered by masterful exploitations of patience.

Dennis Quaid's Charlie haunts a couple played by Meagan Good and Michael Ealy.

Serguei Baschlakov/Sony Pictures

The gut feelings that keep Scott up at night, fearing Charlie is in the woods watching them through the window, turn out to be true. Charlie is always there, plotting, surveilling, manipulating his way into the house under guises of generosity, loneliness and wine for Annie when Scott is away, as his tendencies become violent and his fixation on Annie turns distressing. One wonders if this overload is why, amidst a theatre of unsettled gasps, some viewers chuckled when Charlie attempted to sexually assault Annie after she’d been purposely knocked unconscious. Did people actually find this funny or had the film’s lumbering descent into the disturbing blunt some viewers’ ability to discern rape from the fatigue of beholding Charlie’s maniacal stamina?

To watch Charlie as merely a character in a film is maybe not enough. His overwhelming encroachment on the lives of the Russell family is, however repetitive on screen, a physical embodiment of the agony of knowing something that other people refuse to see, of knowing too much and not being believed. He is the realized fear that one’s unsettled instincts have been right all along, that the thing you didn’t want to be true is lurking in the bushes of one’s sanity, poisoning the atmosphere.

The Intruder opens May 3.

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