American filmmaker Joel Schumacher's career is certainly one full of contrasts: after starting with a meteoric rise to fame with the making of two defining classics of 1980s pop culture ("St. Elmo's Fire" and "The Lost Boys" of course), Schumacher would cement a reputation as an effective artisan with a series of thrillers of acceptable quality, but unfortunately, he would end up crashing disastrously with a great classic of infamy: "Batman & Robin", film that put an end to the first saga of the Dark Knight and that irremediably became a liability for the rest of his career. From this point onwards, Schumacher's career has been uneven, as even when there has been an occasional hit ("Phone Booth"), the great majority of the results have not been truly favorable. "Trespass", thriller released in 2011 that starred Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, became sadly another example of this.
"Trespass" is the story of the Miller family, which is made of the skillful diamond trader Kyle (Nicolas Cage), his wife Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and their teenage daughter Avery (Liana Liberato). The Millers live in a modern and luxury mansion in the middle of the woods, and while they do have a privileged life, they aren't a quite functional family, as Sarah suffers from boredom as she feels abandoned by her husband, who seems to reject her, hiding himself under his absorbing job. At the same time, Avery is a rebel and stubborn teenager, whom escapes from home in order to go to a party one night. When Kyle is about to leave for business, a gang of criminals break into his house disguised as cops, and quickly subjugates the Millers with the intention of stealing diamonds. Lead by Elias (Ben Mendelsohn), the criminals torture the couple, but Kyle decides to use his skill to negotiate with them. Things get complicated when Sarah recognizes one of the criminals.
With the theme of criminals breaking and torturing a family, the screenplay by débutant Karl Gajdusek can't help to bring comparisons to horror films like "The Last House on the Left" or "Funny Games", however, Gajdusek doesn't follow that route and instead, what he explores in "Trespass" isn't horror, but suspense, building up a thriller where the question is if Karl will be able to use his skills to negotiate their escape. The premise isn't really bad, but unfortunately Gajdusek makes an awful job at developing int, falling in innumerable clichés, incoherences and ridiculous situations, as the characters seem to forget common sense in order to move on with the plot. Of course, there are interesting points, such as the Sarah's conflicts with her marriage that may or may not have ended with an extramarital affair. But Gujdasek is unable to tie up his ideas and the story looks more like a badly done farce than the thriller it aimed to be.
Joel Schumacher's direction doesn't really help to improve the disastrous screenplay that he has to work with. In fact, the polished work that Schumacher does (taking advantage of a great work of cinematography by Andrzej Bartkowiak) rather than hide the flaws in the screenplay it actually enhances them. Schumacher's style, so visually colorful, pristine clear and clean, ends up being perhaps too polished for the kind of gritty story that "Trespass" is. Too stylish perhaps. And while Schumacher does know how to handle suspense (as proved in "Phone Booth"), this time it seems as if, bored by his own story, Schumacher just had left the boat adrift. The result: a carelessly conceived rhythm, a complete lack of suspense, and a series of sequences where common sense is gone. Of course, certainly it's in Gajdusek's screenplay where most of "Trespass"' problems have its roots, but Schumacher's work is still pretty poor.
About the cast, it's a bit extraordinary to see two Academy Awards winners, Kidman and Cage, trying to survive unscarred in such a disastrous movie. And while it wouldn't be the first time that Cage is involved in a debacle, at least in previous occasions he had delivered performances with a certain commitment, with genuine interest in what he was doing. Not in "Trespass", where he limits himself to deliver an overacted version of his classic desperate persona. The beautiful Nicole Kidman looks lost in the middle of the chaos, with a performance that seems uninterested in what's going one, and that's based mainly in overacted screams and intense staring. The rest of the cast ranges from mediocre to awfully terrible, with a wasted Ben Mendelsohn trying to make the most of his poorly written character, while Cam Gigandet and Jordana Spiro deliver the worst acting in the movie.
While the bad acting and the poor work of the director are already two highly negative elements, the real problem in "Trespass" is without a doubt the badly developed screenplay by Karl Gujdusek. Full of unnecessary plot twists and completely lacking verisimilitude, Gajdusek's "Trespass" is an example that even in fiction coherence is needed in the construction of the characters. Leaving aside the apparent elitism of his character design, the really problematic is the fact that his characters act in such an incompetent way as the story unfolds. Gajdusek doesn't shy away from sacrificing common sense in order to keep his story going, opting to use improbable situations instead of building any personality or motivation for his character's actions. In the end, the characters are mere walking clichés, empty stereotypes that seem more appropriate for a parody of the genre than for a real thriller.
As mentioned before, Schumacher doesn't do much to save the movie from disaster, and the result is a poorly done film that lacks any interest besides the morbidity of watching two Academy awards winners involved in a bad B-movie. Of course, there are some good things, such as the great cinematography by Andrzej Bartkowiak and the whole production design done by Nathan Amondson; but nevertheless, these elements aren't enough to give life to a movie that simply lacks spark. Joel Schumacher does know how to make a movie, his narrative is effective and the work is polished; however, "Trespass" seems like one of those times in which the director just lost interest in the project. A disaster. A beautifully looking disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.
This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 in May the 18th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.