A weekend getaway goes sour even before the corpses start accruing in “Trespassers,” a good-looking indie thriller that’s diverting, but could have used another script draft or two. Depicting two quarrelsome if hard-bodied couples who find themselves in deep peril at a rented desert home, Orson Oblowitz’s film has a leisurely enough buildup that room should have been made for more fully developed characters. Fine-tuning the pileup of eventual violent crises wouldn’t have hurt, either. The result falls short of being especially credible, let alone memorable. Still, this is a polished genre exercise that provides a decent night’s home entertainment. IFC Midnight is opening it July 12 on screens in New York and Los Angeles, simultaneous with its launch on demand.
A brief prelude leaves us no doubt that the owners of a handsome modernist manse in the Mohave meet a very bad end at the hands of three masked, machete-wielding abductors. Unfortunately, on their way to that exact property a mere day or two later are Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and Joseph (Zach Avery), a young married couple undergoing some relationship problems that are never really explained. They’re a bit puzzled to find the house unlocked and no one to greet them at the agreed-upon check-in time, but oh well.
Of the two, Joe seems more inclined to seriously work on their issues (whatever those are), and as a result is irked that Sarah has invited along another couple: high school bestie Estelle (Janel Parrish from “Pretty Little Liars”) and her new beau Victor (Jonathan Howard). Even more unfortunately for all, Victor turns out to be an obnoxious, pushy playa type who immediately breaks out the booze and cocaine, both of which only heighten his faults.
Tensions are already high when a late-night doorbell rings. The visitor (Fairuza Balk) claims to be a neighbor whose car broke down. She can’t use her mobile phone due to the bad cell reception hereabouts, asking for the house’s land-line in order to call a tow truck and her babysitter. However, she seems in no hurry to leave. Possibly paranoid suspicions about her motives eventually trigger a scuffle that has catastrophic (if accidental) consequences.
At this point, the protagonists have a very serious situation on their hands, and bullying Victor fully meets already-dire expectations about his character by making things that much worse. Further complications set in with the arrival of two local cops (Carlo Rota, Sebastian Sozzi). Then there are those three masked amigos, still after something in the house that is presumably tied to a Mexican drug cartel. (The freshly deceased owners were photojournalists.)
Amplifying the sleek minimalism of the house itself and production designer Mike Conte’s interiors, “Trespassers” has a clean, crisp look in DP Noah Rosenthal’s widescreen lensing. It’s nicely ornamented by the somewhat inexplicable but attractive rainbow-hued emergency lights that come on during the remote locale’s frequent power outages. The action is well-staged, and editor Brett Solem keeps a firm grip on pacing.
Yet despite competent lead performances (particularly from Howard, who makes Victor truly detestable), the central characters aren’t lent enough depth in Corey Deshon’s script to make us truly care about their fates. And the crises, as they escalate, grow more conventional as well as more improbable, with a rote torture-porn-style interlude and an unmasked cartel figure (played by Joey Abril) who’s such a caricatured “bad hombre” his role might have been conceived by a GOP strategist.
There’s certainly room for backstory ambiguity and sudden reversals of fortune in a home-invasion scenario like this, as movies like “The Strangers” have amply proven. But increasingly, the logic of “Trespassers” just feels sloppy, most notably when one of the bad guys is killed, and his comrades (who comprise a very small group) never even seem to notice his sudden absence. (The generic title “Trespasser” replaces a silly earlier publicized one: “Hell Is Where the Home Is.”)
Over the closing credits there’s an instrumental theme that pays flamboyant tribute to 1970s Eurotrash thriller soundtracks, introducing a note of campy retro homage hitherto entirely absent from the film. Otherwise, Jonathan Snipes’ original score sticks to a more modern template of pulsing synth-based suspense.