The ‘home invasion’ sub-genre can make for richly textured and frighteningly compelling motion pictures when executed correctly. The Desperate Hours (1955 now, I’m not touching that 1990 drivel) and 1971’s Straw Dogs are classics that rank among my top-tier favourites, both films offering a brilliant examination of the relationship dynamics of the intruder/intruded upon and the extreme personality changes that one can undergo in high-stakes situations. More recent worthwhile offerings include Don’t Breathe and Hush, chillers that turn genre conventions on their head and serve up unique surprises not commonly found in depictions of this utterly terrifying scenario.
Michael Haneke’s 1997 art-house classic Funny Games is arguably the most disturbing example, not only illustrating a brutally uncomfortable and realistic variation of this kind of event, but also relentlessly breaking the fourth wall to enquire as to why on earth the viewer would want to sit and watch the sort of abjectly sadistic behaviour that sees most folks double-checking all of their locks before bedtime. Matt Eskandari’s new addition, Survive The Night, has absolutely nothing in common with any of the aforementioned films save for a break-in, electing to recycle such an egregious number of tropes that it essentially plays as a ‘How to NOT Make This Type Of Movie’ tutorial. It’s one of those works that inspire you to attempt a deciphering of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of its greenlighting, and the most rational answer is the bankability of Bruce Willis, who also makes no effort to save the film whatsoever.
Rich (Chad Michael Murray) is a disgraced surgeon living with his wife and daughter on his parents’ homestead, having lost the majority of his assets in a lawsuit after negligently causing the death of a patient on the operating table. His father Frank (Bruce Willis) is a retired sheriff, a stern and cantankerous man (well there’s a surprise) who is always quick to remind Rich of how much of an utterly stupid loser he is for costing his family everything. Rich’s mother Rachel (Jessica Abrams) and daughter Riley (Riley Wolfe Rach) sit in the background looking uncomfortable whilst Frank and Rich’s wife Jan (Lydia Hull) incessantly hector him over his failings and accuse him of being indifferent towards the gravity of his actions, even though he appears to be nothing but despondent and remorseful. A livelihood is obviously important, but the fact that his family members browbeat him without once considering how this event may have mentally-emotionally affected him makes them categorically unlikeable. In conjunction with the dialogue being by-the-numbers and lackadaisically delivered, this is a very bad start.
As poor Rich attempts to quell this familial tumult, brothers Jamie (Shea Buckner) and Matthias (Tyler J. Olson) are driving across the state on an adrenaline rush, furtively lamming it after committing a series of heists in order to secure their early retirement to Mexico. Almost a wet fish, bargain bin version of The Gecko Bros., Matthias is the level-headed professional thief who strives to abide by the principle of getting what you need and getting the hell out with as little destruction as possible, while Jamie is a textbook case of antisocial personality, an arrogant prick who carries (or tries to carry) a perpetual air of menace as he impulsively victimises everybody they come across. During a reckless, impromptu hold-up of a gas station, Matthias is badly wounded in a firefight with the clerk, and as coincidence would obviously have it, the brothers drive at breakneck speed to arrive at the very hospital Rich works at (He’s a disgraced surgeon, not a disgraced former surgeon). As the receptionist informs Jamie that he’ll have to wait his turn on an emergency list, he overhears Rich discussing an uncharacteristically successful operation with a colleague (you know exactly where this is going, don’t you?), and the brothers proceed to lurk in their vehicle as Rich wraps up the evening and drives home.
The brothers burst in and take Rich and all of his family hostage, Jamie demanding that Rich stitches up his older sibling without failure, stating in no uncertain terms that it will cost him a lot more than a lawsuit should Matthias die. In classic Bruce Willis fashion, Frank isn’t scared of the two scumbags, and proceeds to further insult Rich for his hesitation at immediately transforming into an action hero. Even after he regains consciousness, bound against a pillar after being pistol-whipped by Jamie, Frank can’t resist giving the brothers a heady dose of verbal abuse, and takes a few surreptitious opportunities to command Rich to fuck them both up while preparing to operate on Matthias. The mouthy old goat would be summarily executed in just about any given context, and the fact that he’s a former police officer truly boggles the mind as to why he thinks it’s a good idea to domineeringly offer his opinions to two men who have his entire family at gunpoint.
The events that follow are about as formulaic and unimaginative as you can get, the father-son duo working to overcome their tension-fraught relationship while doing battle with the thugs. It also features what is quite possibly Bruce Willis’ laziest performance, shooting intimidating glares and mumbling tough S.O.B dialogue without the slightest glimmer of passion. Chad Michael Murray and Tyler J. Olson are essentially ‘okay’ in their performances, the worst offender of the piece undoubtedly being Shea Buckner. He certainly looks the part, but he cannot act for shit. In between sullen facial expressions and unconvincing delivery of dialogue that intends to paint him as a nuanced antagonist, Buckner clenches his teeth and growls threateningly in such a way that you’d be forgiven for thinking he was intentionally parodying Christian Bale’s incarnation of Batman.
That is legitimately the extent of substantive depth that anyone could approach a review of Survive The Night with. The characterisation and script are utterly confused, all of the insertions of pathos do not land at all, and the four central male characters (the women in the film are merely there as window dressing) do not imbue the audience with any incentive to give a toss about them or their respective plights at any point in the narrative. It aims to be about family values and reconciliation in the face of external evil, but that would require a coherent, reasonably intelligent story and convincing performances in order to be successful. Lowest-common-denominator poppycock, avoid at all costs, seriously.