10. When a Stranger Calls (1979)
Well there I go, breaking my own rules already. The home invasion of When a Stranger Calls is not extended throughout the entire film, but this film’s opening sequence alone merits inclusion on this list. You know the urban legend: a man prank calls a babysitter, asking if she’s checked the children she’s supposed to be watching. He keeps calling, so the babysitter calls the police, who soon tell her that the calls are Coming. From. In. Side. The. House.
Sounds cheesy, right? Not in this flick. The opening scene of this movie is scarier than any single scene from any film listed below. Truth.
9. The Ref (1994)
In this razor sharp comedy, Denis Leary invades the home of a bickering married couple on Christmas Eve night. Lloyd and Caroline (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) do not get along, and haven’t for years. But, as a victim of circumstance, Gus (Leary) forces them to verbally duke it out and squash their problems. So, in effect, the thief brings the couple together, but not before generating some hilarious un-PC discussion.
8. Inside (2007)
Another Christmas Eve tale of home invasion, but with a decidedly more gruesome tone. While a pregnant woman sits at home alone, mourning the recent loss of her lover, a mysterious woman in black shows up and demands to have the woman’s unborn child. A few key words for what is to follow: scissors, no anesthesia, blood, fetus, blood, blood, blood. Inside is actually a really effective little movie, but its penchant for bloodlust is a little too much, even to those with a strong stomach.
7. Hard Candy (2005)
The unique part about Hardy Candy is that it is essentially a home invasion thriller in reverse. When we meet 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) we think she is a naïve young woman who is about to fall victim to an online predator. Hayley meets up with the 32-year-old Jeff (Patrick Wilson), and he soon invites her to his stylish home. But things aren’t what they seem. The hunter becomes the hunted, and back again. I love the evolution of this warped little movie.
6. Kidnapped (2010)
The thriller Kidnapped, while stuck with a pretty generic plot, deserves to be here based on technical prowess alone. The 80-minute film is comprised of just a handful of extended shots (which, admittedly, are achieved through computer effects, but still…) and successfully implores a split-screen effect for one of its most tense moments. The movie: a couple moves into a house and is soon terrified by three masked assailants. Same old song, but pulled off cleverly, packing one hell of a gut punch of an ending.
5. Them (2006)
Another short French thriller (the French know something about home invasion, it seems) Them is a perfectly paced mystery about a young couple whose secluded cabin gets invaded. Again: same story, effective execution. If nothing else, Them is worthy for its extended chase sequence, which occupies more than a quarter of the film’s running time. It never grows old, it only gets creepier.
4. Panic Room (2002)
David Fincher’s Panic Room is a simple tale of greed gone array. When three relatively moronic masked men break into a lavish New York home, they are surprised to find a strong-willed mother and her ill child living there. The men want the millions worth of bearer bonds that are in the house, problem is, the bonds are locked in the impenetrable panic room that Jodie Foster and Kristen Steward are hiding in. Far from Fincher’s best film, but I enjoy it endlessly.
3. Wait Until Dark (1967)
For my money, the best performance Audrey Hepburn ever gave was as a terrified but strong-willed blind woman trying to evade thieves from her home in Wait Until Dark. A group of thugs (led convincingly by Alan Arkin) are certain that Hepburn is housing a doll filled with heroin inside her apartment. After they break in, Wait Until Dark becomes an ingenious thriller about sensory trickery, which results in a thrilling climax in which an apartment black out levels the playing field.
2. The Strangers (2008)
The entirety of the true horror encapsulated in The Strangers can be found in just four simple words. Late in the film, a terrified Liv Tyler asks “Why are you doing this to us?” One of her assailants, who looks and sounds like a young woman, says matter of factly: “Because you were home.”
THAT’S the kind of shit that scares me.
1. Funny Games (1997/2007)
As usual, I have a hard time gauging which one of Michael Haneke’s home invasion films is more effective – his 1997 German original, or his shot-for-shot, word-for-word American remake. No matter, because point in fact, either Funny Games stands as a horrifying social examination of the people on screen, and the people watching them. It’s rather fascinating how quickly two young, clean cut, approachable young men asking their neighbors for eggs turns into the most devastating home invasion film ever made.
What’s more fearful than the simple plot device of: “You bet that you’ll be alive tomorrow at 9 o’clock and we bet that you’ll be dead.”
Easy, the fact that after one of the criminals says this, he looks right at the camera and asks us if we think the family stands the chance. So, in essence, the audience becomes a participant in the mayhem, which was always Haneke’s point.
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