Review by Sean Boelman
A recent trend in home invasion horror is to spin the tropes on their head by making the protagonists the perpetrators of the crime rather than the victims, and it’s a risky endeavor because it relies on the audience’s willingness to sympathize with a criminal as the hero. Julius Berg’s The Owners struggles to achieve that sympathy, although it does offer some interesting things aesthetically.
The film follows a young woman who unwittingly finds herself to be part of a burglary, only for things to go massively wrong when the homeowners unexpectedly arrive and end up being much more menacing than they seem. These stories of bad and worse can sometimes work very well, but it’s a tough line to follow.
We are supposed to sympathize with the protagonist because she is an outsider, who was dragged along for the robbery despite not wanting to commit any crimes. Yet the idea of guilt by association kicks in, and it’s hard to accept her as a full-on victim as the movie tries to position her. Had she been more of an antihero, the film would have been far more compelling.
Maisie Williams is definitely very talented, but unfortunately, the role she is given isn’t as meaty as one would hope. What makes these reverse home invasion movies so compelling is the idea of fighting back and punishing evil, and yet, it feels like there is no punishment to be had. A few more action scenes really would have allowed Williams to shine.
Some of this issue can be attributed to the fact that the script takes far too long to get to the action. It’s obvious from the title alone where this story is heading, so the seemingly endless red herrings that make up the first half or so of the movie are frustrating, even if the final act does bring things home in a satisfying way.
Perhaps the most off-putting thing about the film, though, is its awkward themes. Berg and his co-writer Mathieu Gompel clearly want to play with ideas of childhood innocence, presumably in an attempt to make the characters feel less culpable, and it results in some uncomfortable and out-of-place scenes in which the characters mentally revert back to their younger selves.
That said, the movie has some truly messed up things going on in its head, executed visually in a fascinating way. There are some very brutal moments, and while the gore itself is brief, it will definitely linger in viewer’s minds. That said, a few aesthetic choices, like an aspect ratio change in the middle of the film, will leave some questions.
The Owners tries to make the most out of a risky premise, and while it does deliver some unique visuals, it leaves a lot to be desired in a narrative sense. Still, it’s diverting enough to satisfy most genre fans.
The Owners hits VOD on September 4.
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