Written by: Matt Patti | September 3rd, 2020
The Owners (Julius Berg, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Director Julius Berg’s The Owners is a horror-thriller about an attempted robbery of a house gone wrong. The subject material is one that I’ve always thought would make a great film, ever since I was a child: what if robbers break into the wrong house and find themselves the ones who are in danger? The idea was pulled off well, recently, in the 2016 Don’t Breathe. Based on the French graphic novel Une nuit de pleine lune (“A Full-Moon Night”), The Owners takes a similar yet entirely different approach to the concept.
The film begins with a car parked on a lawn outside of a large, old house. In the car are three young men: the stoic leader of the group Nathan (Ian Kenny), the jittery and foolish Terry (Andrew Ellis) and the psychotic and maniacal Gaz (Jake Curran). The three friends sit outside the house with binoculars, waiting for the owners to leave the house so they can enter. Terry’s mother happens to work for the elderly couple that owns the place and has told Terry that there is a safe with a large amount of money in the basement of the house. Terry has passed this information along to Nathan and Gaz, and the boys are hoping to score. However, Nathan’s girlfriend, Mary (Maisie Williams, The New Mutants) arrives and demands to have the car, as she needs it for work. The owners leave, and Nathan convinces Mary to come inside with the boys and they’ll be done shortly. However, the owners of the home, Dr. Huggins (Sylvester McCoy, Slumber) and his wife Ellen (Rita Tushingham), come back in the midst of the robbery, and the tables begin to turn.
The Owners thrives on the tension between different characters and has plenty of complex relationships to fulfill that tension. There is tension between Nathan and Mary over the whole idea of the robbery, tension between Nathan and his friends over the correct way to carry out the robbery in order to succeed, and of course there is a huge amount of tension between the Huggins and the youths committing robbery. Throw in tension between Mary and each of Nathan’s two friends, including some past problems with Terry, and there is more than enough to go around. The film capitalizes on this and leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat, wondering how each character will react to certain situations, who they will need to rely on for help, and who they might turn against. The first half of the film does much better with these moments than does the second half, which relies more on suspense as the result of horror aspects rather than tension between characters. I prefer the first-half’s intriguing character dynamics to the second half’s wacky horror antics, but both work well together in rounding out the film.
The performances in the film are all flawless. The standouts, though, are the elderly Huggins couple. McCoy does an amazing job as the doctor. His voice and demeanor are calming and soothing and he never really seems like much of a threat even though he is clearly being deceitful and malicious throughout the film. His wife Ellen, on the other hand, is quite erratic. Sometimes she is soft-spoken and a bit confused, other times she is shouting and demanding certain things be done. Tushingham plays the role brilliantly, shifting back and forth between the loopy, sweet old woman and the frightening, authoritative, demanding one.
The film’s pacing is where it starts to falter. The beginning of the film is paced quite well, with a string of bad decisions leading to logical consequences and the aftermath falling on top of the youths. However, after the halfway point of the film, it creeps to the finish line. Unlike many films in which the first half moves slowly in order to establish characters before a faster-paced second half, this film does the opposite. Once certain characters are diminished in their roles and only a few remain relevant, the film becomes less interesting. Much exposition, strangely, is reserved for the second half, and seems rather unneeded. The motivations of each character become a bit confusing, and some characters do some insane, wild things that are a bit out of place. The film stumbles to its conclusion, which is rushed and abrupt and doesn’t make much sense, leaving quite a few questions unanswered.
Although the film’s second half doesn’t quite live up to the tense first half, it is still mostly enjoyable. The performances, sustained tension and suspense will draw viewers in and grab them for the majority of the runtime. While the second half follows a more conventional horror structure with some strange elements, it is still enjoyable because the characters are intriguing enough to want to follow through the journey. Overall, The Owners is a solid suspense film, more thriller than horror, with some action elements included. The choices some characters make will more than likely leave viewers thinking about what they would do if they were stuck in a bizarre situation like the one in this film.