Wanting More of Our Worst Nightmares
“Trespass” may be just another piece of dreck from Nicholas Cage, but its redeeming quality in this country may be that it exemplifies a very Indonesian sense of paranoia.
Imagine this: You’re at home, in the middle of your daily routine — having dinner, channel-surfing, Internet-browsing, child-scolding, anything — when strangers walk in unannounced. The invaders’ intent may or may not be obvious, but it is clear they are violent and have the upper hand. Sometimes evil visits and you can only sit back and see what happens.
This type of plot carries many terrifying films, including “Trespass,” which opens in Indonesia this week. Cage plays Kyle Miller, a diamond-trader whose mansion is overrun by thieves masquerading as policemen.
Between hackneyed dialogue, overwrought turns and sloppy delivery, the film still manages to remind us how real the threat is, especially in Jakarta. A simple glimpse of the seemingly endless local criminal shows and crime reports attest to this.
Home invasion as a premise works on an instinctual level because the violence inflicted is unnaturally sudden. Like an exclamation mark punctuating the middle of a sentence, the onslaught starts in a dizzying awkwardness. The surprise renders victims disconcerted with thoughts of their own mortality.
The victims of senseless assaults in the unapologetically vicious 2008 film “The Strangers,” the 2006 French film “Them” and “Funny Games” (the 1997 original and its 2008 remake) come to this realization when the invaders show no interest in material riches but delight in others’ shivering terror.
This ever-present fear of evil explains the prominent gates and security personnel most housing complexes in Indonesia feature. Many houses even have prison-like bars attached to every window and door. Indonesians’ paranoia extends to impossibly dark-tinted windows in private vehicles, kids who go to school with bodyguards and people who carry weapons in their vehicles.
In a society in which everybody is on high alert, anywhere is a potential battle arena. Fist fights could break out in the middle of the street, in lounges or in cinemas — crime tabloids and other “newspapers” exist here for a reason. Not only has “evil” made people fear criminals, it has made them fear each other. The “home” in home invasion films is merely a stand-in for any illusion of private space.
In the minds of many Indonesians, any place is a potential crime scene, an assumption that isn’t too far-fetched if these films are to be believed.
In “Trespass,” Miller, his gorgeous wife Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and teenage daughter Avery (Liana Liberato) live in an opulent home surrounded by thick, tall walls and protected by numerous security measures. In 2002’s “Panic Room,” Jodie Foster and an 11-year-old Kristen Stewart hide inside a seemingly fail-proof vault but still face the threat of desperate thugs. Distance and remoteness doesn’t help, as demonstrated by Dustin Hoffman in 1971’s merciless “Straw Dogs,” which follows a home invasion in rural England.
Despite taking all the precautions, the homeowners remain vulnerable to invaders. Fear exists because no security measures are truly fail-proof. As the AV Club’s Scott Tobias wrote in his preview of “The Strangers,” “At no point is there a sense that the victims have any control over their fate, nor can they even comprehend what’s happening to them, much less negotiate with their attackers.”
Then there is the reality of the existence of such despair even in the countryside. “
Trespass” may not offer much in the form of cinematic suspense, but its plate of soap-operatic and mismanaged crooks — who spend as much time at each others’ throats as they do on their intended targets — serves as an ironic reminder of how desperate people in desperate situations operate. The money-ridden criminals in the “Panic Room” have the same distressed look in their eyes.
I personally know two families who have experienced murder by an intruder, which may not seem like many until you hear their accounts of how distressed and borderline cuckoo the perpetrators were. Their stories demonstrate the indelible mark fear leaves. “They have nothing to lose,” goes the saying. This doesn’t even take into account acquaintances who have had their houses robbed (two this year).
But perhaps the paranoia mostly stems from the fact that it doesn’t matter who you are, because the threat rarely discriminates. Roger Ebert wrote that the “Funny Games” remake was “an academic exercise in learned helplessness.” Whether you’re a buff family man like Gerard Butler’s character in “Law Abiding Citizen,” a blind woman like in 1967’s terrifying “Wait Until Dark,” a pregnant woman like in 2007’s brutal “Inside” or even a cute kid with a penchant for booby traps (“Home Alone”), sometimes all that can be done against evil is to wait for it.
But don’t worry. Our paranoia prepares us, as our love for these horror thrillers demonstrate.