Yet another intense thriller about an upscale family terrorized by violent home invaders, “Trespass” takes an old-school approach to unsettling auds, largely eschewing the sadism and nihilism that lately have been hallmarks of this subgenre. Helmer Joel Schumacher and a game cast headed by Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman do their damnedest to build and sustain suspense while trying, with some degree of success, to breathe fresh life into a formulaic, even generic scenario. Still, B.O. expectations are something less than lofty: Pic kicks off VOD and theatrical runs Oct. 14, with homevid release announced for Nov. 1.
Opening scenes briskly illuminate financial and familial tensions while introducing Kyle Miller (Cage), a fast-talking diamond dealer; Sarah (Kidman), his gorgeous architect wife; and Avery (Liana Liberato of David Schwimmer’s “Trust”), their rebellious teenage daughter.
Even as Kyle wheels his Porche through the security gate and into the driveway of his ultra-expensive (and conspicuously unfinished) steel-and-glass modernist home, Kyle struggles to repress desperation and exude confidence while teleconferencing with potential clients and debt collectors.
Once inside the house — which, very conveniently for plot purposes, is located in a secluded spot surrounded by a thick forest — Kyle finds his wife and daughter arguing over whether Avery should attend a party with an uninhibited friend. Avery refuses to take no for an answer and slips out the back door, leaving her parents alone long enough to share a meaningful conversation about the emotional distance between them. Then bad guys disguised as cops arrive at their door, and the nightmare begins in earnest.
Much of “Trespass” is devoted to Kyle’s frantic bouts of bargaining with the invaders’ belligerently sarcastic leader, Elias (Ben Mendelsohn, “Animal Kingdom”), a tough but not unintelligent fellow who appears to know a great deal about the security system of Kyle’s house and the likely contents of Kyle’s safe.
Despite physical and verbal abuse, Kyle refuses to open that safe, fearing, with ample justification, that as soon as the intruders get what they want, they’ll kill him, his wife and, after she returns unexpectedly, Avery. Cage is in fine form throughout “Trespass,” especially during those stretches when Kyle — sometimes shrewd, sometimes scared, always plotting his next counter-offer — improvises one frantic negotiation after another.
What Kyle gives is nothing short of the sales pitch of a lifetime. Appropriately enough, Mendelsohn powerfully portrays Elias as the most unreasonably demanding customer the diamond dealer has ever encountered.
While working entirely within genre conventions and expectations, scripter Karl Gajdusek nonetheless manages to spring a few surprises while revealing character motivations, often suggesting that nothing, not even flashbacks, should be taken at face value. He also does a clever job of planting elements in the first act for ironic payoff in the third; some viewers may laugh out loud as soon as they realize why, late in the story, they’re returning to a roadside location visited earlier.
Some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy banal or worse, and the actors can’t do anything with the worst lines but shout them at the top of their lungs. Cage risks inspiring derisive giggles when he snarls, for reasons best left unexplained, “Your filthy lust invited them in!”
Overall, though, the perfs are pitched at the right emotional extremes. Kidman credibly conveys everything from bemused maternal concern to teary and trembling terror, and she also enhances the ambiguity of her scenes alone with Cam Gigandet, who’s well cast as a seemingly sensitive intruder.
Production designer Nathan Amondson and ace lenser Andrzej Bartkowiak are of immeasurable assistance to Schumacher as the vet helmer contrives to make the sprawling Miller family home seem like the most claustrophobic place on earth.