Streaming: the best home invasion films

Guy Lodge

Not many good things have happened so far in 2020, but Parasite ruling the Oscars in February ranks high among them. It took 92 years for the Academy to finally anoint a non-English-language film as the year’s best, and you couldn’t ask for a more electrifying movie to claim the milestone than Bong Joon-ho’s cool, crisp, genre-bending class-war thriller.

By the time cinemas shut down in March, Parasite had become the highest-grossing non-English-language film in UK box office history. If you missed it, its home entertainment release on Monday (on all major streaming platforms, as well as DVD and Blu-ray) should come as a particular treat. The film’s intricate narrative reversals are best experienced with as little forewarning as possible, but it’s no spoiler to say that it ranks among cinema’s most ingenious revisions of an age-old genre: the home invasion movie. The premise of an impoverished working-class family posing as servants to cannily infiltrate an elegantly moneyed household is classical. Yet the social dynamics of the setup are subversive from the beginning, as Bong and his superb cast muddy and muddle our sympathies – the poorer family may technically be the invaders here, but who are the victims?

Parasite joins Jordan Peele’s ingenious, incendiary Us (streaming on Now TV), a deconstruction of black double consciousness played for visceral chills, in challenging the conventional politics of the home invasion movie – which traditionally sides with rich, respectable folks in peril. In the golden age of Hollywood, the home invasion thriller usefully allowed studios to cut back on sets and production costs, zeroing in instead on their most gifted damsels in distress: see Sorry, Wrong Number (Google Play) from 1948, an enjoyably schlocky little exploitation film in which Barbara Stanwyck’s sickly heiress clocks that she’s the target of a murder plot but can hardly leave her boudoir to do much about it.

Richard Crenna and Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967). Photograph: AF Archive/Alamy

You can see how its brand of claustrophobia filtered into William Wyler’s more hard-boiled The Desperate Hours (YouTube), in which Humphrey Bogart leads a trio of convicts holding a nice suburban family hostage while they await their escape money, or Wait Until Dark (Chili), in which Alan Arkin’s violent thug storms the apartment of lovely, poor, blind, inadvertently drug-harbouring Audrey Hepburn – a static but nervy “he’s behind you” setup that holds up rather well, thanks to Hepburn’s expert angst.

These days, of course, home invasion plots are a staple of grislier exercises in terror. 2008’s The Strangers (Google Play) remains underrated in its simple, tightly cranked preying on middle-class fears and privileges, like a more multiplex-friendly answer to the cold-blooded cat-and-mouse games Michael Haneke played with a family on holiday in Funny Games (Amazon Prime) – the Austrian original, that is, not his own oddly pointless US remake. The 2006 French film Them (available on Shudder) splits the difference between well-oiled genre mechanics and unorthodox arthouse cruelty. Following a family plagued by oddly diminutive forces at their country getaway, it’s short, sharp and nakedly petrifying.

Sometimes more supernatural forces are at play: with its signature warning of “they’re heeeere”, the still crackling Poltergeist (Amazon) made a generation of children wonder what apparitions may be lurking in the living room TV set. Alejandro Amenábar’s modern haunted house classic The Others (iTunes), meanwhile, inverted its victim perspective with a twist so clean and brilliant that it’s ominously being lined up for a remake. And who can even say what or who the invaders are in Darren Aronofsky’s divisive but enthralling Mother! (Amazon), a fevered psychotic breakdown of a film in which strangers leaning on her unbraced kitchen sink is the very least of young home renovator Jennifer Lawrence’s problems.

The Others (2001). Photograph: Allstar Picture Library

Not all home invasion movies have to be traumatising, however: the genre can accommodate unexpectedly tender love stories, as in Robin Campillo’s excellent, unpredictable Eastern Boys (Amazon), in which a middle-aged gay man’s attempt to anonymously hook up with a beautiful youth at his flat has both destructive and heart-bursting consequences. There’s even such a thing as a home invasion romcom in the form of the irresistibly fizzy, silly Housesitter (Amazon), in which Goldie Hawn’s enterprising waitress pluckily colonises the unoccupied dream house of lovelorn architect Steve Martin. She’s plainly a sociopath, but why should that impede true love? There isn’t much to connect this fluff to Bong Joon-ho’s gilded masterwork, save for its conviction that not every home invader is the bad guy.

Also new on DVD and streaming

Cats
(Universal, U)
If the baying reviews got you curious but you just couldn’t face the uncanny onslaught of digital fur technology in the cinema, here it is for your home viewing displeasure. Tom Hooper’s hyper-kitsch Lloyd Webber adaptation is this generation’s Xanadu: a singularly monstrous folly sure to draw cultish fascination.

Onward
(Disney, U)
Finally on DVD for families who have resisted the lure of Disney+, Pixar’s latest has a jovial, innocuous tone that should make for tolerable repeat viewing through the summer holiday lockdown. It’s slight stuff, though, notwithstanding the sweetness of its family values.

Run
(Verve Pictures, 15)
Scottish indie director Scott Graham doesn’t match the moody heights of his debut, Shell, in this Springsteen-spirited ode to dead-end towns and deadbeat dreams, but a fine Mark Stanley gives it some juice as a former boy racer turned frustrated family man.