There’s an incredibly interesting story lurking somewhere beneath “Intrusion,” about the way mistrust and paranoia can slowly chip away at a marriage. The film, however, eschews this tale in favor of something a little more rote, and a little bit trashier. It’s a fun watch, to be sure; as a home invasion movie of sorts, it has a number of thrilling moments, and lead actors Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green each do a stellar job with what they’re given. However, the final product also exudes trepidation about its most intriguing aesthetic and narrative elements — ideas which may have only enhanced its genre sensibilities, had the filmmakers further pursued them.
Married couple Meera (Pinto) and Henry (Marshall-Green), a psychiatrist and an architect, met in college in Boston, but their fancy new duplex sits in rural New Mexico. Per the film’s dialogue, their big move was owed at least in part to the wide-open landscape, which director Adam Salky and cinematographer Eric Lin present in picturesque fashion, even if they never quite capture the relationship between the characters and the space around them. How they feel about their surroundings is (or ought to be) paramount, in a story where their sense of comfort is thrown out of balance by a violent late-night break-in, which results in Henry shooting one of the perpetrators dead, using a gun Meera didn’t know he owned.
What initially follows is an excavation of the encounter’s fallout, between Meera’s lingering PTSD, a police investigation about the wider circumstances of the attack, and the couple’s increasing disconnect. Their secrets, both large and small, begin slowly chipping away at what seems like a happy relationship. Meera, who’s recovered from breast cancer in the past, hasn’t been entirely forthcoming about recent developments, while Henry ceases to open about his nightly whereabouts. However, this carefully crafted character drama soon switches gears, when fewer details about the case seem to add up, and Meera begins investigating a number of leads, including some related to her husband, and the way he built and designed their house.
It’s here that the film’s construction begins to feel half-baked, compared to what came before. In earlier scenes, where the focus is squarely on Meera’s doubts and silent realizations, the camera weaves and tilts as it moves through space or pushes in on her, magnifying her lingering sensations in the process. However, once the film takes on a mystery bent, its focus on physical details is awkward, misplaced, and worst of all, noncommittal. The camera stands mostly still as Meera reacts to addresses, logos, and other bits of information that appear to mean something to her, but few of these things are ever established for the audience, and so their meaning remains vague for unbearably lengthy stretches of time, especially as the plot begins to displace most of the character drama. Pinto is even shot in profile for at least one of these sequences, which really doesn’t help unearth what’s meant to be happening (emotionally or logistically). Were it not for the film’s suitably jagged and propulsive music by Alex Heffes, which hints at how all this information might eventually fall into place, such scenes of discovery would be entirely perfunctory.
It also seems, at times, like director Salky and screenwriter Chris Sparling are left unaware of some of the added cultural baggage (and opportunity for an even deeper marital wedge) that arises thanks to Freida Pinto’s presence. It’s unclear whether Meera was always meant to be an Indian character, or whether her name and backstory — a single, stray line about her having moved to the U.S. for college — came about after Pinto was cast, but her foreignness (in general) and her Indianness (in specific) lead to a couple of interesting dynamics.
For one thing, the presence of a gun in the story is a big deal, but its sudden emergence is tied only to questions of Henry’s dishonesty when it comes to owning a firearm, rather than what that firearm might represent to Meera as a non-American caught in a distinctly American story. She’s a character to whom the very idea of a gun might, at least in theory, be more aberrant or shocking, than if she had grown up in the United States, where guns are common, and while this story beat is within the realm of possibility, instead, the gun soon fades from conversation.
Additionally, Pinto’s performance — specifically, her accent — also speaks to Meera’s sense of discomfort within the story. As a woman who’s spent time in the U.S. but whose speech retains elements of Indianness, her delivery is often restrained and measured, as if she’s constantly considering the right syllable to hit, and the exact balance of Indian and American enunciation in her voice, the way she might if she and Henry had only been dating a short while (Marshall-Green, meanwhile, feels totally at ease when he speaks). But while Meera’s dialogue frequently searches for the right place to land, her face tells a different story. Pinto’s performance is exacting and precise in quiet, personal moments — especially moments of doubt and contemplation —as if who Meera is in her own private world is at a disconnect from who she is around Henry (though the film never explores this dichotomy).
Marshall-Green’s work is equally nuanced, as a man who constantly needs to care for someone else, both for selfish and selfless reasons. His performance is remarkably balanced. There’s something unsettling about Henry; the way he concedes arguments feels ever-so-slightly resentful, and the way he peeks out from behind his unassuming glasses is like he’s surveying the world around him.
Unfortunately, Henry’s bespectacled appearance, coupled with the film’s home invasion plot and some other key details, also brings to mind the far superior film “Straw Dogs” by Sam Peckinpah, which “Intrusion” feels like it’s trying to subvert in several ways. It doesn’t have the thematic heft or careful craftsmanship necessary to do so, but it has just enough by way of excitement, action, and winding turns to be worth a watch.
“Intrusion” is now available to stream on Netflix.