Trespass: Pity the Rich!

10/14/2011 4:00 AM |

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Everyone’s asking for pity in Trespass, Joel Schumacher’s latest “psychological thriller” that’s actually an anti-psychological thriller. A majority of the 90-minute film takes place on a single evening in which the Miller family is invaded in their lavish home by a band of swarthy extortionists. But that’s not all. Teenage Avery (Liana Liberato) is mad at her mom Sarah (Nicole Kidman) for not letting her go to a party, and Sarah is pouring herself glasses of wine over her money-obsessed husband Kyle’s (Nicholas Cage) neglect of their sex life. The “Mo Money Mo Problems” plot is set up in about 10 minutes, at which point Avery is already dodging security cameras, hopping fences, and getting into her tipsy friend’s car to go party.

The burglars, disguised as cops, get into the Miller compound in a few seconds time and moments later Sarah and Kyle are on the floor and lots of shouting ensues. Here’s where we get a first taste of the film’s perilously clichéd dialogue; Elias (Ben Mendelsohn), the head honcho of the burglars, yells, “I know a lot about you, Kyle, and what I don’t know, you’re gonna tell me.” One wonders if an actual burglar has ever made this pronouncement, and even if so, if anyone has ever felt legitimately threatened by it.

This is a central failure of the film’s narrative: the burglars are so dumb that it requires an extremely willful suspension of disbelief to buy that they even make it into the house, let alone manage to stay for so long. Spoiler alert: each of the four burglars dies. And of course the Millers all survive, albeit frazzled and bruised. But who could imagine that Elias’ younger brother Jonah (Cam Gigandet) would die in a pile of burning cash set aflame by a match and a coincidental trail of gasoline? The four deaths each occur in the blink of an eye and without any narrative groundwork, rendering them laughable. But that’s okay because they’re bad people, right? The Millers are at least trying to maintain a home for themselves—they’ve clearly invested a lot of money towards that end. Do the burglars have anything to show for themselves? Do they deserve any sympathy?

Well, the film gives the burglars some dimensionality, just not much. Elias is a dope dealer because he’s “not good at anything else;” he needs some cash to pay off a nemesis. Elias’ girlfriend, Petal (Jordana Spiro), is a drug-addict and a frenzied emotional wreck. The handsome and robust Jonah has his eye on Sarah, and she can’t help but glimpse back. There are a number of dream-sequence-like flashbacks to flirtatious encounters between the two during Jonah’s prior visits as a technician. The suspicion of adultery—none actually occurs—might appear to complicate the film’s simplistic moral landscape, but it falls short of even a soap opera’s depth of intrigue.

The film makes a lot of hints at current events. Kyle deals in the kinds of things that led America to economic peril—you know, like real estate (it’s unclear). He admits to living entirely on credit. When the burglars realize they’ve robbed nothing but a middleman, Avery, who took a cab home from the party after getting fed up with a douchey, coke-gummed boy, offers to go back to the party where she knows there’s a stash of money. She says it’s saved up for “the next 9/11,” whatever form that cataclysm might take. We see the Miller compound’s penetration by the terrifying outside world, which seems spiraling towards collapse on terms that go unarticulated. Imagine an incoherent series of news ticker announcements on one of the Millers’ big-screen TVs: REAL ESTATE BUBBLE… HEROIN TRADE… TERROR THREAT…

Amidst all of this confusion, the film seems to yearn for world that only exists in American mythology: a world in which the Millers could just be a happy nuclear family, living self-sufficiently on their homestead. But we never get a glimpse of what this might look like specifically for the Millers; they’re fundamentally unhappy, burglary or not. In the closing frame, they lie together in a pile of their own sweat and blood, and whatever hope we have for their future exists only as wish-fulfillment. Within these confines, actual empathy for any character is far-fetched.

Opens October 14