Director: Julius Berg
Writers: Julius Berg, Matthieu Gompel, Geoff Cox
Stars: Maisie Williams, Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham, Jake Curran, Ian Kenny
Synopsis: An elderly couple turn the tables on a group of young thieves who broke into their house while they were away.
Home invasion thrillers won’t be a popular choice at the moment since they are often too close for comfort, but this latest offering from director Julius Berg and co-writer Mathieu Gompel will do you no harm, as it is really quite silly. The Owners is adapted from the graphic novel ‘Une Nuit de Pleine Lune’ by Hermann and Yves H, and stars Maisie Williams as a wayward teenager caught up in a house robbery, swapping assassinations in Westeros for torturing the elderly in rural England. Not the most obvious of career paths, but you can understand why she’s been chosen to headline this bizarre attempt to subvert an exhausted sub-genre. The poster that has her holding a massive sledgehammer is compelling enough, promises smashing times ahead if only she had swung it against the side of the house and escaped through the hole right at the start. Those hoping to have a good time watching Williams hunt her way out of trouble will be disappointed as The Owners is devoid of tension and thrills, although some peculiar creative choices do ensure this film goes all in with a chaotic, head-scratching third act.
The film makes it clear early on that you can switch your brain off, as its dim-witted trio of men break their way into a house they already have the key for. Nathan (Ian Kenny) leads the pack, boyfriend to Mary (Maisie Williams), trailed by the bumbling Terry, prone to crying and creeping on Mary when Nathan isn’t looking – it’s unpleasant and mind-numbingly boring. Somehow even worse is the manipulative brute Gaz (Jake Curren), a man whose only form of communication is destroying, swearing, or mutilating. Nathan is pathetically spineless as a boyfriend and armed robber, convincing as neither. And while Curren looks the part as Gaz, relishing his lack of humanity and sadistic sense of humor, the acting is so predictable and wooden you never feel like these men could hurt anybody. Even when the knives come out, the violence is dull because no effort has been made to get you emotionally invested.
Williams is reliably good but even her nimble heroine Mary can’t escape screenwriting crimes, given a lazy a pregnancy plot that goes nowhere and has no place in this film. It shows a naivety in Berg and Gompel’s screenplay, neither writer understanding how to create empathetic characters with interesting things to do. Aside from fitting this sort of genre fare like a leather glove, Williams does thankfully provide a much-needed focal point. Since she is such a naturally energetic performer, the film always feels like it could erupt into something interesting when she’s darting from room to room, scrambling about for the next best thing to a sledgehammer. Best not to get your hopes up too much though, as the screenplay has no idea what to do with her towards the end, fading out with such minimal effort to bring everything together that it’s almost impressive in its ambiguity.
Having said all that, what the film lacks in substance, it finds brief redemption in homeowners Dr. Huggins (Sylvester McCoy), who sneaks about like Bilbo Baggins, and his rather creepy wife Ellen Higgins (Rita Tushingham, the actress making every minute of her screen time count). The two are a welcome respite from the adolescent inertia, both having a fun time with their off-kilter parts. They are rather similar to the lovable cultists in Anything for Jackson, a film that achieves everything this one sets out to do but doesn’t. The biggest absence is a beating heart. Immoral, eccentric characters need a glimmer of warmth. Berg and Gompel get so carried away with their drunken stew of a plot they forget to make any of it matter. If you don’t care about the characters, you aren’t going to be bothered when their severed finger flies across the room. Weirdness for the sake of weirdness is not clever or interesting.
The Owners crashes as a tense thriller, and while it’s all over the place, it’s still more suited as a bonkers horror film. The arrival of the old couple is a cryptic awakening of sorts, for the characters and the film itself, bringing all manner of strange events into play. For instance, a cockroach resurrects itself on the dinner table, the film appearing to have slipped into another dimension. The quirky humor is ramped up, the action intensifies, and the characters become incomprehensibly inconsistent. It may not be successful, but the lighter change in tone is a welcome one. From a purely aesthetic sense, the unburdened frenzy of the third act is more exciting than the boring torture-fest of the first, although each new scenario makes less sense than the one before it.
The Owners is a strange oddity, curiously unhinged but entirely forgettable. Berg’s attempt to spice up the ordinary home invasion horror is adventurous, but sadly none of his and Gompel’s ideas work on screen. Instead, the fun comes from trying to work out what an earth this film is trying to do rather than enjoying the senseless chaos. And this is before the aspect ratio suddenly shrinks itself to half the screen for the entirety of the second half of the film. Why? You decide. It’s honestly difficult to process. It was at least eye-catching, in what is otherwise an absurd misfire.
Available on Digital Platforms 22nd February and DVD 1st March