Producers: Alain de la Mata and Christopher Granier-Deferre Director: Julius Berg Screenplay: Mathieu Gompel, Julius Berg and Geoff Cox Cast: Maisie Williams, Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham, Andrew Ellis, Jake Curran, Ian Kenny and Stacha Hicks Distributor: RLJE Films
Julius Berg’s goofily grisly home invasion thriller, adapted from the graphic novel “Une Nuit de Pleine Lune” by the Belgian father-and-son team of Yves H. and Hermann Huppen, is not unlike “Don’t Breathe” (2016) in terms of its basic premise—would-be robbers break into a house, only to have the tables turned on them by the occupants. But unlike its predecessor, “The Owners” quickly becomes a very black, very gruesome comedy enlivened by a couple of wildly over-the-top turns from old pros Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham as the hilariously eccentric British couple.
They play Dr. Richard Huggins and his dotty wife Ellen, who live in a castle-like mansion in the Scottish countryside. Their place becomes the target of three would-be robbers—Nathan (Ian Kenny), an ordinary bloke looking for a windfall to escape his stifling life; Terry (Andrew Ellis), his chubby, dim-bulb friend whose mother (Stacha Hicks) is the Huggins housekeeper; and Gaz (Jake Curran), a nasty bit of work who can crack safes like the one where Dr. Huggins is believed to keep a big stash of cash. The trio are casing the house, and after Richard and Ellen drive off, they break in (unnecessarily, since Terry knows where an emergency key in kept).
The brutal Gaz starts trashing the place, but it’s Terry who finds a safe in the basement wall. Unfortunately, Gaz can’t open it, and suggests they wait for the old duffers to return and force the combination out of them. There’s a further complication in that Mary (Maisie Williams) has followed them to the house and is compelled into becoming an unwilling part of their crew.
The elderly owners return and are quickly in the housebreakers’ clutches, tied up in the basement. But Dr. Huggins refuses to reveal the safe’s combination, even when Gaz threatens Ellen with torture. There’s more trouble: the old couple recognizes Terry, and Mary tries to call the police. When Gaz demands that Nathan take on the dirty business of brutalizing Ellen, they fight, and Mary has to intervene.
From this point on, things get stranger and stranger. The salient point is that Dr. Huggins takes control, and proves not to be the harmless, helpful person he pretends to be. He and his wife definitely have an agenda, and go to great lengths to accomplish it, and the four criminals prove no match for them. The revelation of what the eccentric couple is up to is pretty much out of the horror playbook, but is presented so ghoulishly that it will be fun if you can stomach the gore.
Maisie Williams heads the cast, and she’s fine, but what really gives “The Owners” its fizz is the pairing of McCoy and Tushingham. He plays Huggins with a dash of the late Ian Holm in his manner, while she goes for broke as a woman who’s clearly gone off the rails. Among the others in the small cast, Ellis is the standout as the recessive Terry, but Curran is by far the scariest as the vicious creep Gaz. Kenny falls between the two.
The picture is a pretty polished affair, with production designer Bobbie Cousins doing a fine job on the house’s interior and cinematographer David Ungaro giving the widescreen images some luster. Marc Boucrot’s editing keeps things fairly clear even when the action gets messy, and in addition to Paul Fraser and Vincent Welch’s effective music, mention should be made of the excellent sound design by Ben Baird.
“The Owners” may not be a terribly innovative horror movie, but it tweaks the topoi enough to be an amusing take on a familiar plot.