As thrillers go, the premise is promising enough: a small crew of misfits targets an empty old house for their next mark, only to be surprised when the owners return home and turn the tables on the invaders, to gruesome ends. Unfortunately, The Owners, a British production featuring a post-“Game of Thrones” Maisie Williams as the newly-pregnant girlfriend of one of the criminals, loses track of its own best intentions, never quite balancing enough character development with the bloody plot. Directed by Julius Berg (who co-wrote the script with Mathieu Gompel), the film delivers plenty of brutal moments. But if you have the audacity to expect a bit of substance behind your scares, The Owners falls desperately short.
As the film opens, Nathan (Ian Kenny) is getting high with his mates in a car parked just outside a nice enough house—landscaped grounds, rolling hills on either side, and no sign of anyone inside. Terry (Andrew Ellis) knows the place, as his mom works there as a housekeeper; Gaz (Jake Curran) convinces the guys its the perfect hit, especially when he hears there’s a safe in the basement that’s sure to hold something valuable. Nathan’s girlfriend Mary (Williams) shows up, and though she can tell Gaz is clearly a bad influence, she gets roped into breaking into the house with them.
At first, the kids figure they’ve really lucked out—the place is posh, and though Terry would rather they not ransack the place searching for the goods (his mom does work there, after all), Gaz goes to town wrecking entire rooms. (Gaz is slightly batshit crazy, if you haven’t caught onto that just yet.) Basking in the adrenaline rush that comes with doing what you’re not supposed to do, they discover the large, fortified metal door to the safe Terry knew was inside; but it’s not a digital lock like they anticipate, and as they’re taking power tools to it to try to get it open, they’re met with a very unexpected surprise: the home’s elderly owners return unannounced, catching them in the middle of their crimes.
Dr. and Ellen Huggins (Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham) are about as threatening as Paddington Bear (their name is Huggins, for Pete’s sake!), and with Ellen’s dementia, the couple seem even easier to overwhelm while the kids make a break for it. For a brief moment, Gaz goes full psycho and threatens torture to get the couple to tell him how to open the safe, but they deny there even is a safe in the house. At barely the halfway point in the film, tensions boil over and the crew turns on each other to fatal results. At this point, Berg and Gompel still have half a film to fill with storyline, so they inexplicably turn Dr. Huggins into some sort of Dr. Demento, a man with enough knowledge about how to care for people that he can turn it on its head to harm them, too. (What hippocratic oath?) Though the first third with the criminal crew as the focus was flimsy enough, the shift to Dr. Huggins and his what—and the reveal of what’s really behind that fortified metal door—is so obtuse and meandering that it’s impossible to muster any investment in any of the players or their fates.
It’s a big weekend for movies in an otherwise dreary year in cinema—Chicago’s Music Box Theatre is safely screening Christopher Nolan’s Tenet; Charlie Kaufman’s latest mindbender I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix; and if you’re willing to pay the additional $30 for early access, Disney’s acclaimed live-action remake of Mulan is now available on Disney+. With all that (and more) impressive new content available, it makes it hard to recommend a film as disappointing at The Owners. If all you need from your genre films are some disconnected moments of intense violence or random jump scares, it’s possible this one may fit the bill; Williams herself gets off perhaps the most welcome and solid attack of the film, but it’s all pretty much down hill from there.
The film is now playing at Music Box Theatre. Please follow venue, state and CDC health and safety guidelines if attending indoor screenings.
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