The notion of a “midnight movie” is still enough to provoke a primitive tingle of excitement. It is, after all, not just something you watch at midnight — it’s something that belongs at midnight. It’s a movie that opens up into the darkness, into the strange and the outré, the forbidden, the jaw-dropping, the eye-widening, the mind-blowing. It’s something — in theory, at least — that’s not ready for prime time. No movie, of course, absolutely has to be watched at midnight (though Alejandro Jodorowsy’s 1970 “El Topo,” the spaghetti Western head trip that started it all, sort of does; it wilts in the sunlight). But “Intruder,” a low-budget woman-in-peril thriller that’s as bare bones as its title, is being released under the IFC Midnight banner, so in a way it’s only fair to evaluate it as a post-polite-hours experience.
An early scene offers an amuse-bouche of midnight kink, even if it isn’t totally clear where camp leaves off and ineptitude begins. A trembling blonde ice princess, who looks like she has never so much as attended a classical music concert, is sawing away at the Dvořák Cello Concerto (is the scene meant to be stylized, or did the director forget to tell her to move her fingers?). Then her teacher approaches. He’s played by Moby — yes, that Moby — in a gray sweater and professorial beard and horn-rims. He proceeds to give her a shoulder rub, in a Greatest Hits Of Sexual Harassment 1978 way, then leans right down next to her face to stage-whisper, “When you’re playing, really pay attention to your breathing…and really listen to your body.” And that, believe it or not, is the fun part of the movie.
The cellist, whose name is Elizabeth (she’s played by the British-born Louise Linton), returns to her comfy place of residence in Portland, and it’s not long before the title stalker slips inside the house. He’s an anonymous psycho in a hood, and his every furtive move is heralded by the kind of boom/clang! on the soundtrack that has been goosing audiences for decades. Once that happens about half a dozen times, a menace-who-cried-wolf feeling starts to hover over the proceedings, and we begin to wait for something a little more interesting to occur. But no. The stalker, in his cloak of “mystery” (i.e., is he the Moby character or the handsome uptight young Norman Bates hipster at the laundromat?), just does a lot of standard stalker stuff. He hides in the closet and looms in the shadows, takes a bite out of an apple and returns it to the fruit bowl, pets the kitty cat and then pets our heroine while she’s sleeping. The whole staging is so generic it begs the question: Where’s the gimmick, the midnight twist? And somewhere around the 45-minute mark, it begins to dawn on us: This is the twist. The fact that a stock intruder-in-the-house suspense scene that, in another film, would have been a minor exercise in routine string-pulling has now become the entire movie.
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The slightly preposterous thing about “Intruder” — apart from the way that Linton’s British accent comes and goes, to the point that you honestly can’t tell whether the character she’s playing is supposed to be British or not — is that as the stalker keeps doing his creepy thing, until he almost begins to fade into the furniture, the movie persists in subjecting the audience to those boom/clangs! on the soundtrack, as if we were supposed to be surprised, each time, that a maniac is skulking around and taking his sweet time doing it. “Intruder” is a novel concept indeed: a slasher film without the slashing (or much of anything else), which in theory makes it the best midnight movie of 1952. Or, just maybe, a film that should be shown deeper into the wee hours, when even addicts of late-night movie danger are asleep.