Friends Nathan (Ian Kenny), Terry (Andrew Ellis) and Gaz (Jake Curran) think there’s a quick and easy score to be made by breaking into the house of well-to-do local couple Richard and Ellen Huggins (Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham) while they’re out but things start to go awry when the safe in the house can’t be opened.
They decide to wait for the owners to return, even though unwilling accomplice/Nathan’s girlfriend Mary (Maisie Williams) thinks it’s a bad idea and that they should all get the hell out of there. Once Mr. and Mrs. Huggins arrive home, will the rest of their scheme go smoothly? Will loyalties be tested and tables be turned? Have you seen any of these home invasion thrillers before?
Flippancy aside, The Owners doesn’t stray too far from the standard template of the subgenre but, to its credit, concentrates on its strengths, of which it has quite a few. The writing may not be break much in the way of new ground but the cast commits to the material. The presence of Maisie Williams in the cast may be the primary selling point – and don’t get me wrong, she’s doing good work – but McCoy and Tushingham prove to be the more interesting ones here.
McCoy’s natural surface of gentleness which thinly covers something far more eccentric and possibly dark is played to the hilt, whereas Tushingham, known more for kitchen sink dramas and movies of the swinging 60s rather than chillers (save for her role as the timid Brenda in the bleak and brilliant 1972 Hammer oddity Straight On ‘Till Morning) gets to exercise her full-on horror chops in a belated but thoroughly entertaining workout.
As with many films of this type the criminals are, let’s face it, just plain dumb but the quarrelsome quartet Mathieu Gompel and director Julius Berg’s screenplay (with the participation of Geoff Cox) presents us with are at least framed as a group of young folks who have few prospects in a dead-end village where the haves and the have-nots are sharply defined.
Their master plan isn’t much of a plan at all and the minute it begins to go off the rails, which is not much after minute one, the tiniest amount of cohesion there had been between the members of this clumsy crew vanishes.
As you’d expect, there’s one amongst this band of fledgling thieves who is slightly more desperate and driven to violent solutions than the rest and in this case it’s Gaz, who bullies not only the sweet Huggins pairing but the others in his team in his increasingly unhinged quest to get his lands on the loot. This is one of several plot detours which possibly give unnecessary further insight into unlikeable characters but are also handy for spinning out the running time and slowing the escalating panic and making those bursts of violence all the more hard-hitting.
The violence? Well, as this has been rated 18 for the UK, it’s no surprise that The Owners doesn’t hold back in its effective and gruesome assaults on mostly unsuspecting folks. It never wallows in sadism, thank goodness, but a couple of sequences might very well make you wince. Even the off-camera action is accompanied by some sickening sound design so the viewer isn’t completely let off the hook.
Away from the slashing and bashings, there’s also long, unresolved guilt on the part of Mary concerning the disappearance of her sister Jane many years earlier and if you’re thinking that this is going to be used as a part of a quite frankly bonkers twist towards the end, then you’re absolutely right. In fact, the final act descends into utter madness with plot development that don’t so much strain credibility as stick a rocket on it and launch it towards the horizon.
One thing I could never level at this is a lack of commitment to the insanity of those last twenty minutes, which are both cruel and quite gloriously crackers. It’s shrieking, ludicrous nonsense which constantly risks veering into splattery pantomime territory and yet it all just about manages to work somehow. Your eyes may roll so much you’ll get motion sickness but the ultimate showdown, on the whole, delivers even though it’s fairly obvious where this is all heading once the film unveils its big reveal.
As a Brit-based variant on oh so many of those US home invasion flicks, The Owners stands on its own bloodied and bruised feet. It may not have anything particularly new to say and the frankly absurd twists may prove too annoying for some but it’s a diverting thriller which offsets its overly familiar trapping with a string of fine performances, decently cranked suspense and a startlingly nasty streak.
Signature Entertainment presents The Owners is on Digital Platforms 22nd February and DVD 1st March