Home invasion—in life and in horror films—just hits different. Among the many familiar and fan-driven horror tropes, the one that involves your own sanctuary being invaded by strangers with malicious intent tends to be the one that unsettles viewers (and readers) the most. Yet given a penchant for transgression, there are a lot of home invasion movies that simply get “it” wrong. What is it, exactly? It’s that combination of suggestion and pacing that leaves a person feeling completely and utterly vulnerable.
Here are eight home invasion films that aren't terrible (as so many of them are!) and actually manage to achieve the feeling of vulnerability so necessary for this sub-genre.
I remember when this one first came out. It looked like just another home invasion film, right down to the outwardly annoying cast of characters (which ironically makes it all the more satisfying to see them get killed); however, what it did so well involved how they displaced who had control between the victims and invaders. The setup is ordinary and relatable: Erin accompanies Crispin, her boyfriend, to a family reunion up in the outskirts of Missouri. Crispin’s family is old money and are not on good terms. The dinner that follows is tense and full of fighting . . . that is until someone dies. And then someone else. It looks like a routine home invasion until Erin fights back. The invaders hadn’t expected her to be ex-military, able to eliminate a threat quickly and effectively. You’re Next did such a great job with giving the power back to the protagonist without it seeming unrealistic or heavy-handed. All in all it’s also a solid home invasion, complete with Halloween-masked invaders!
This 2004 South Korean drama isn’t horror and it barely fits the home invasion thriller template; however, its because it so masterfully captures the “inhabiting” of a stranger’s space that it makes this list. You see, we are introduced to a young drifter as he drifts from one locale to the next, placing flyers on doorknobs to see which vacation condominiums are inhabited or not. He breaks in and lives in these places for a time. It’s a detail that is often forgotten among home invasion stories: It’s not about taking something, it’s about the fact that they want to live and embody someone else’s space. Eventually he breaks into a house where a shy, withdrawn housewife lives. She barely speaks and it’s clear that she has been abused by her husband. The drifter learns to live in the house without being seen, memorizing each footstep and routine so as to never leave a trace. He embodies the space in such a way that he exists there, even if nobody notices. Such a thought sends shivers down anybody’s spine.
Inside remains one of the more brutally violent and frightening films depicting home invasion since its release in 2007. The French film depicts Sarah, a pregnant young woman on Christmas Eve waiting to give birth the following day. Still grieving the death of her husband in a car crash, she denies any company for the evening and settles in for what should be an uneventful and calm Christmas Eve. A mysterious woman knocks on her front door asking if she could use her phone. An unassuming occurrence launches into a heinous series of events wherein the stranger seeks to retrieve Sarah’s still unborn baby. Scared yet? Inside is successful because it completely oversteps and “goes there” by way of pacing. It just keeps getting worse. Where other films would aim for a stop somewhere after the death of a character, Inside makes that a mere plot point. By the end of the film, viewers are left physically exhausted. That kind of feverish pacing is so hard to come by.
The Strangers is a film synonymous with the modern home invasion. It contains both the suggestiveness and expert pacing required to lull viewers into a sense of heightened concern and vulnerability. It helps that it’s a familiar scene: James and Kristen are a couple retiring to a vacation home after a wedding reception. Things aren’t going well, the mood a damper, due to Kristen rejecting James’ marriage proposal. For a spell, their breakup takes center stage, the film really taking its time to draw out that edge, that anticipation. Around 4AM, there’s a knock on the door, which is perhaps as expected but because it happens after a quiet expanse, it catches viewers off-guard. From there it hits all the right notes; even after the invaders have unmasked themselves, The Strangers maintains that vulnerability that says, “This could happen to you too.”
Like Children of the Corn crossed with The Strangers, this 2006 French-Romanian film plays with a lot of the same concepts as both The Strangers and You’re Next. We have a couple, in this case they have just moved into a house in the suburbs, and we have a seemingly uneventful night that goes awry. The way it begins is so different from the usual—this time it isn’t someone knocking on the door; it’s the sound of music in the distance punctuating the typical suburban quiet. Turns out the music is coming from one of their cars, which has been moved, effectively hijacked by an unknown stranger. It’s bait, and our poor couple take the bait. The invasion begins in earnest, with the invading group pursuing the couple. It’s the manner with which they do it that really hits that suggestiveness and makes it so eerie and refreshingly different. It turns out these invaders aren’t your usual sadistic fare; they carry children's toys, including noise-makers, and they seem to enjoy the torture, seeing it as a game. If that doesn’t get under your skin, I don’t know what will.
When Parasite was the talk of the film community, winning numerous accolades and accomplishments, I found it interesting that few saw through the complex character development, marking the Kim family for what they are: home invaders. Though they aren’t masked and hidden in the shadows of the night, though they don’t break into the house, they do it in far more of a sociopathic and manipulative manner. They case the Park family’s home, choosing to inhabit the wealthy family’s own lives; they take on roles and aim to earn their trust. It’s only then that the film makes that bold reveal, the subterranean bunker that in and of itself is a vantage point for perpetual home invasion. The Kim family take over the home, completely changing the Park family’s sense of place. It’s perhaps one of the most effective home invasions put to film. And when it comes time for the climax, and we discover what becomes of Ki-taek, it’s enough to feel equal fits of melancholy and terror. Ever wondered if someone might be living in that crawlspace or attic of yours?
Unsurprisingly Michael Haneke’s 1997 (and the 2007 frame for frame remake) film holds the crown as one of the most unsettling and effective home invasion films to date. In every way, from its opening scene, the family driving to their vacation home listening to classical music until the title card shows up while power-violence plays behind it, to the two invaders wearing all white, looking like unassuming young teen males, all the way down to the fourth wall breaking nature of every scene, the sadistic games the boys play with the family, Funny Games is every bit the best use of suggestion and pacing, revealing a sense of discomfort and vulnerability in audience members that often result in people turning it off, leaving the theater . . . essentially being too uncomfortable to continue. The best of home invasion does that: It forces you into a corner wherein you feel equally complicit and chilled to the bone.