If not the apocalypse, home invasion certainly seems to be the go-to film theme of 2011, manifesting in everything from an Aussie reincarnation flick about the destructive boughs of grief (The Tree) to a whole host of horror movies with unwanted visitors both creepy (Fright Night) and crawly (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark). Into this swelling vat of timely tales, which explore the desecration of the common man’s last symbol of self-worth and security, Joel Schumacher bends over and squeezes out Trespass, a jerky, clamorous domestic thriller that attempts, with nonsense and expletives turned up to full volume, to say something thrillingly profound about the depths of misery one can reach while doing financial damage control. Saying the movie fails in that attempt doesn’t even begin to describe the rollercoaster of bad decisions Schumacher makes here, nor does it properly express why Trespass is the hack’s worst film since, well, since his last one.
You’d swear the opening was a joke, as the title appears in a calculator font that screams “straight to video,” while Nicolas Cage—as he will for about half of the next 90 minutes—just screams. Cage plays Kyle Miller, a workaholic diamond dealer whom we first meet as he whizzes down a rural road in his sports car and barks a bunch of business gobbledygook to whatever poor soul he has on the phone. Kyle, you see, is a serious man with serious problems in a serious movie, and in case that doesn’t register, Schumacher has the underlining and italicizing covered, laboring over those close-the-deal convos, lingering on the concerned face of Kyle’s neglected wife, Sarah (Nicole Kidman), and positively cranking the dramatic techno score when the Millers’ daughter, Avery (Liana Liberato), sneaks out of the house, merely to go to a friend’s party. With all of this, Schumacher is also putting the “fore” in foreshadowing, as within the next few scenes, a whole lot of masked baddies will barge into the Millers’ secluded mansion, declaring, at the top of their lungs, that Kyle must fork over a fortune in diamonds.
The sheer force and decibel level by which the film is essentially defined briefly works in its favor, with the burglars demanding attention and fearful respect with their alarming aggression (as Elias, the brainiest of the bunch, Animal Kingdom‘s Ben Mendelsohn breathes fire and towers above Karl Gajdusek’s script). But as the ever-abysmal Cage well knows, what goes up must come crashing down, and the crooks’ demands that Kyle open his high-tech safe are increasingly peppered with risible exclamations like, “I will cut a hole in you!” and “Don’t touch her, you fucking fuck!” Someone is always freaking out in Trespass, be it Cage, on whom Schumacher torturously zooms in during sweaty, single-take tirades, or Cam Gigandet, whose obligatorily shirtless handyman-turned-thief, Jonah, may or may not have had a Wisteria Lane-style affair with Sarah (to embody Jonah, who’s often told to “take his pills,” Gigandet busts out all the histrionics in his arsenal). Supposed infidelity is one of many literal and figurative bruises Kyle suffers on his road to rock bottom, where the film decides he must end up, dead or alive, if he’s to escape the prison of trying to maintain his family’s lifestyle (Kyle also sustains vision- and speech-impeding injuries, which Cage oddly adopts as performance quirks, his line readings going from dreadful to incomprehensible). Surely there was a faster way to reach that place of ultimate desperation, as Schumacher strains to fill out the running time by constantly cutting to shots of dudes getting kicked in the gut, and repeatedly having to account for why the bad guys don’t just kill the family already.
Some are labeling Trespass a B movie, but that’s hardly the tone that comes across, especially when considering the prestige it seems to be aiming for, making its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and playing up its stars as “Academy Award winners.” If 72-year-old Schumacher has any interest in late-career prestige, he might want to think about speaking a little more softly, or, for “fucking fuck’s” sake, paying attention to particulars. Pointing out the absurdities of trivial minutiae isn’t often the best practice when it comes to critique, but Schumacher lets so many foolish things slip that acknowledging them is as good a way as any of highlighting his clumsiness. For example, was the serious utterance of “10 hundred” really allowed to make it into the final cut? Was it ever considered a bad idea to equip a professional security company with a computer whose screen looks like a kid’s PowerPoint project? Schumacher fumbles this thing right down to the last detail, ravaging his film so persistently, it’s only right that it ends with a shot of the mansion up in flames, that burdensome symbol finally incinerated. And since Trespass features more plot tie-ups than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the only question that remains at the end is whether or not the director pissed on the ashes.