You get a subgenre of horror more straightforward than home invasion. People are inside a house and a person or people are outside the house trying to get in to fulfill dark motives. But while home invasion horror may have a simple formulaic structure, it is hard to make standout without unique elements. Trespassers, the new IFC Midnight film, utilizes staples of the genre while using twists and turns in the narrative to set it apart from the rest.
In Trespassers, directed by Orson Oblowitz and written by Corey Deshon, we follow two dysfunctional couples as they rent a house hoping to use it for a weekend of debauchery as they try to work through their respective relationship issues. Because what way to get over deeply seeded emotional abuse and inability to have sex with your partner than renting a gorgeous house in the desert for a drug-fueled escape from reality with a high school best friend?
Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and Estelle (Janel Parrish) are longtime best friends looking forward to reconnecting after a period apart but their boyfriends, Joseph (Zach Avery) and Victor (Jonathan Howard), aren’t exactly excited to be around each other. Over the course of a night filled with sex, drugs, and copious amounts of uncomfortable situations and Victor’s abusive personality and racist comments, things take an unexpected turn when a woman (Fairuza Balk), claiming to be a neighbor of the owners with a car, trouble shows up at the door.
In typical home invasion horror fashion, the group debates the merits of opening the door with Sarah, ultimately making a unilateral decision to help the seemingly harmless woman and let her use their phone. Soon, the body count begins to pile up with creative kills and an evolving situation with predictable twists that live in shock value over substance.
Right from the jump, the film begins casting Mexicans as the bad guys. Located in the desert, presumably near the US-Mexico border (given the racial slur used by Vincent when we and the other couple are getting introduced to him), Trespassers opens with men in masks and a kidnapping, all while norteño music blasts from the car stereo. Intercut with screams, the norteño automatically sets the tone as to who the bad guys are, adding in elements of misdirection for when the story begins to develop and the mysterious women show up, and ultimately leaves me rolling my eyes.
As for the two couples we’re supposed to invest our emotions into? They’re awful. Now, they aren’t played by bad actors, they’re just genuinely bad people. Vincent is racist, emotionally and physically abusive, and his interactions with Estelle are extremely hard to watch. This is mostly because of his actions but also because she just accepts it, and especially because the other couple Sarah and Joseph just accept it too. But as things start to unravel you do start to find people to root for in the midst of the neon and the chaos you realize that out of the four protagonists, Sarah is relatable and has a character story that the Deshon at least tried to flesh out.
That being said, as the standard home invasion narrative begins to shift, there is a glimmer of hope that Trespassers isn’t leaning hard into stereotypes. But sadly, that wasn’t the case and ultimately the film suffers from it. The bad guys are exactly who you think they are and if you made the mistake of watching the trailer, the “twist” isn’t so much a twist for the audience as it is for the people in the film.
But Trespassers does have a solid first half, utilizing the tensions of the group and using their mistrust to fuel the narrative. Had this been carried through the entire movie instead of it taking a sharp left turn into what we have always seen from home invasion horror, it would have benefitted the film. And as is descends into the same old same old, Trimbur’s Sarah carries the back half of the film.
While I have issues with the story, Trespassers is visually interesting, electric, and sets its moods perfectly. Depending on the emotive experience that Oblowitz bathes the shot in a different color. Reds, blues, and pinks do more to push story than the dialogue in the back end of the film. Another plus is that it was great to see Balk in a horror film again while she doesn’t have a prominent role in her ability to play off others works perfectly to raise tension.
Coming after films like The Wind and I Trapped the Devil, I’ve come to expect more than extremely tropey horror from IFC Midnight. Now, this isn’t to say that there isn’t a place in the genre for a film like Trespassers, there most definitely is. That being said, it’s choice to paint Spanish-speaking Latinx characters as the boogeymen and to play things for shock only lands the film firmly in the early 2000s home invasion after The Strangers.
Is Trespassers bad? No, but it isn’t amazing. If you’re looking for a Friday fright, I definitely recommend picking it up as a rental when it comes to VoD tomorrow, July 12th.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.