We loved Intruders when we saw it at FrightFest; a twisty home invasion horror with a difference and some excellent performances.
Beth Riesgraf (Leverage) stars as Anna, a woman suffering from severe agoraphobia who is unable to leave the house. Which is obviously very bad news when a group of crooks break in looking for a hidden stash of money, and they’re not going to leave until they get what they want. But are they underestimating their target?
We spoke to director Adam Schindler and producer Brian Netto about subverting audience expectations, making you question your sympathies, and why Martin Starr was the perfect choice to play a cold blooded killer. Minor spoilers below!
Was it the idea of putting a twist on a home invasion horror what drew you to Intruders?
Adam Schindler: Most definitely, yeah. Brian and I, our first film that we did was a movie called Delivery, which is also kind of a mash-up of genres, and that’s something that we really enjoy doing. Taking something that’s expected, turning it on its head and ending up at a complete 180 from where we started. It’s tough to do, it’s tough to do well, but we’ve always been genre fans, that’s the stuff that we watched growing up and were really into.
So when we set out to make movies, it was natural that was what we gravitated towards, and we always wanted to try something new. To try a new spin on the tried and true, and see if we can find little areas to tweak. There’s a very specific structure to these types of films, so you have to work within those constraints, but I think that helps us get more creative.
You have all these specific things that you have to do in order to make it a home invasion film, but then find unique little ways to kind of buck the system.
Are you a fan of these types of movies?
AS: I wouldn’t say that we were necessarily fond of home invasion films. We enjoy good ones, you know what I mean? So it was more about the character really. The biggest thing is our characters and trying to find the story that’s at the centre of this. The home invasion aspect of it is there obviously and it’s the thing that instigates everything and starts the movie going, but I wouldn’t say that we were really interested in doing the film specifically because it was a home invasion movie.
It was more about the character of Anna and how it was one of the few scripts we read that I really didn’t know what the hell was going to happen! We were like ‘Wow, I don’t know where this is going to end, and where it did end was so far from where it began,’ we found that interesting.
Did you know the writers TJ Cimfel and David White beforehand?
AS: We knew the writers, they are actually repped by the same manager that we have. So we had actually read Intruders, which was originally titled Shut In, a couple of years prior and really loved it but it had already been optioned by somebody.
As it goes, we did our first movie, it was decently successful, that got us a connection with some producers who wanted to find a project to work with us on, and it just so happened that Shut In or Intruders was available at that time, and it checked every box that they wanted it to be, and it was really interesting for us. When our manager brought it up, like ‘Hey what about this script?’ Brian and I both jumped at it. It was kind of serendipitous, it came together really quickly.
Was it difficult to find the right actor to play Anna? The character is a lot more complex than she originally appears to be…
AS: We thought it was going to, and Beth was the very first person we saw! She came in and read, and she blew us away. So after that you go through the casting process and you’re seeing tons of people, it is an extremely tough role. Finding the right actors and actresses to cast is so important. A lot of times in horrors and thriller films, the acting is kind of secondary to the concept. But you’ve got to sell it on the performances, it all hinges on that.
So we were concerned, we’ve got to find somebody that can really player all these different layers, but Beth came in and everybody was compared to her thereafter. We just kept going back to Beth, she just knocked it out the park. Plus, she’s a fantastic person, she’s so easy to work with and really creative. It worked out really well, she really killed that role.
Did it take a lot of work to figure out the character’s journey, when to hint at things, when to make her more or less vulnerable?
Brian Netto: It’s there on the page, that’s the great thing. And when Beth came in, because she was the first person we’d seen, it was truly a blank canvas and she found this childlike quality. In the scenes she read she was able to summon that fierceness but also have this very vulnerable, fragile broken character, and I think that is what keeps you rooting for her, even though you start to question whether she’s doing the right thing.
In parts of the film it blurs a bit, and we loved the idea of having her become something that you start to question in terms of her motives. That’s not an easy thing to do because often in the same scene she’s hitting all those different notes, and she was game and she created a really interesting, pretty indelible character.
Was it tricky to figure out when to start hinting at where the film, and Anna, are going to go?
AS: TJ and David had done such a great job with hiding those things. And the greatest thing was the house that we found. We shot in Shreveport, Louisiana; it was really a godsend, because it literally fit the script to a T. We had to do very little in the way of devising the production draft to fit our location. Other than consolidating some things it was literally all there and I think that has a big impact on the reveals.
Beth and I, we didn’t have much time in terms of prep or shooting, it was a 16 day shoot, so we had to fly and I think that served us well in that we didn’t second guess ourselves, we didn’t over-think things. We really went on instinct. We did sit for one day and go through every scene in the entire script and found the emotional core in each scene, and we made notes and we stuck with that. We were just flying and we went with what we discussed.
What was it like shooting in that real house?
AS: Well, the house had been sitting there for a year untouched. The person who had lived there had left and the house been sitting there for a year before we showed up. So nature had kind of come to reclaim the house, there was a tree branch growing through the wall, there was dust, it was kind of rank and it smelled. We had to get a cleaning crew to come in and get it to that level of cleanliness that you see in the film. But other than that, I think it was Spielberg who said that the scenes where two people are sitting at a table are the hardest ones to shoot, because you have to try and make those interesting. So that was probably the biggest challenge.
BN: Whatever the difficulties are of shooting on a practical location, that particular location, I think we got so much more from it than we ever would have if we had walls that could fly away, where we’d have more options for where to put the camera and movement. The benefits of that house far outweighed any limitations it had just because of the look and the feel.
You would not be able to build anything like that, it felt very lived in and it felt like it had a history to it, and that’s just not something that you can build. You wouldn’t be able to get that feeling from it. And the actors, without a doubt, when you walked in it had a very unique smell and feel to it, so without a doubt that influenced their performances.
Could you talk about the casting of Martin Starr as Perry? It’s definitely a break from type for him!
AS: He responded to the script, as did all the actors who came onto it, everybody who came on board really responded to the script. It definitely wasn’t a payday for anybody; everybody did it for the love of it. He came in, and he’s a bigger guy than I thought he was. So he’s physically imposing but he does this great thing, he can kind of go dead behind the eyes.
He uses it to great comedic effect in Silicon Valley and comedy movies, but he can go dead behind the eyes where you don’t quite know what he’s thinking, so that’s a great thing for a wild card-type of character that he plays in this film. To be the guy who you don’t know if he’s going to shake your hand or stab you in the neck! I think he really relished the opportunity to step outside of the norm of what people expect of him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started getting more roles like that because he’s excellent at it.
How have you found the reaction so far?
AS: I try not to read a lot of reviews but the stuff that I have seen has been very positive. I think people are responding to the fact that we tried something new. All of it may not have hit, but I’m really happy with where the film landed and I think it does play a lot with your sympathies.
Finally, what are you working on next?
BN: We just finished a sci-fi script that we’re really really excited about. That is something we wrote and we’re excited to put it out into the world, and hopefully that will be our next one. The title is Canaan; we’re big sci-fi fans, and think it has a really interesting take on the AI films that we’ve been seeing.
Intruders is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.