Home invasion is one of my favorite and most anxiety-inducing subgenres of horror...
...While The Strangers remains one of the single most upsetting films I’ve ever watched, there are plenty of other incredible offerings out there, all with different approaches to the same endgame—to make what should be the safest place imaginable suddenly feel like the biggest trap. Done well, home invasion horror is a masterful playground of tension and atmosphere, sparked with moments of violence that result from a smothering undercurrent of intense fear. I have to leave my lights on and check my doors and windows for weeks after watching The Strangers, and—even though a cursory google search tells me the film is universally panned—watching Michael Haneke’s fourth-wall-breaking Funny Games left me on the edge of my seat. They could not be more different from one another in tone and characterization, yet they both leave me feeling equally wary. Writer-director Paul Hibbard’s film Some Visitors, playing at Panic Fest this year, takes the genre in yet another surprisingly effective direction.
At its heart all film, regardless of genre, is fairly formulaic. What makes a great film work is its ability to take the tools we all know and seek out ways to make them work in surprising ways. Some Visitors starts out lulling viewers into a sense of knowing exactly how the story will go. A woman (Jackie Kelly) is home alone and mourning the loss of a child and listening to news updates about a spate of home invasions around her area. When a mysterious man (Clayton Bury) knocks on her door and asks to use her phone—and then refuses to leave—the night takes a shocking turn for the bloody. About halfway through the bite size 27-minute runtime, we begin to sense that things may not be as we thought, and by film’s end you’re left with an impressively shocking pitch-black sense of unease.
I’ll be the first to admit I was not expecting the miniscule runtime and feared it would not fully capture the same feeling as a standard feature-length invasion film…but I am also always ready to admit when I’m wrong, and wrong I was. Some Visitors is a lean, mean discomfort generating machine. Even when it seems like it might be stumbling—why just reveal that you’re home alone to a complete stranger? —by the end it’s clear that even those steps were intentional. Hibbard takes the DNA of Funny Games and distills it down to its meanest elements, from casually cruel invaders to fairly brief but incredibly graphic moments of violence intended to linger with you long after the screen fades to black.
It takes a special kind of finesse with your story to be able to chop it down so much and still come away with a film rife with enough surprises to make it a uniquely terrifying standout, but Some Visitors does just that. Its simplicity lends more power to the eventual shock of the twist, and you find yourself not even really needing the rest of the time that would bring it out to standard length. The tension created by the clashing tones of Jennifer (Kelly) and the invader is almost instantaneously skin-crawling. His casual insistence of “just messing with her” reads with the same saccharine toxicity as any “nice guy” with venom on his tongue, so when the gloves quite literally come out we know we’re in for trouble one way or another.
Just when we think he’s the worst that can happen, a few more ingredients are added to the mix, reminiscent of The Strangers and upping the terror. When the final pieces fall into place, though, is when Some Visitors really starts to shine. To reveal them here would, of course, spoil all the fun, but rest assured the shock of the final showdown Jennifer leads for her home is well worth the price of admission for any fan of the home invasion genre, and left me both a little speechless and itching to find someone to tell. There is one scene of violence in particular that is perhaps the hardest to stomach—a brief moment of infanticide from which the camera does not cut away—but it sets the tone for the exact level of cruelty Hibbard and team seem to have been aiming for and achieved with ease.
By Katelyn Nelson