When a young married couple (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good) buys their dream house in the Napa Valley, they think they have found the perfect home to take their next steps as a family. But when the strangely attached seller (Dennis Quaid) continues to infiltrate their lives, they begin to suspect that he has hidden motivations beyond a quick sale.
Screenwriter David Loughery is no stranger to the kind of domestic thriller that puts everyday people in the crosshairs of unhinged interlopers, as evidenced by the movies Lakeview Terrace and Obsessed. When he was searching for a new vein of highly charged menace around which to build a screenplay, he thought about a certain community staple.
Says Loughery, “In every neighborhood, there’s an older, retired guy who is completely obsessed with his house and his property, and his yard, and he keeps everything in meticulous shape, and it’s a reflection of him. The house, the property, represents him. And I thought, what if a guy like this had to give up his property? Had to sell his property? Was forced to do it. Would he be able to really let go of that place? Would he be able to stay away, or would he have to come back and make sure that the people he sold it to were taking care of it in the way that he needed them to take care of it?”
That inspiration led to the creation of unnervingly fixated retiree Charlie Peck, a disturbing scenario that arises from a married couple purchasing his house, and a screenplay that was at the time called Motivated Seller. After a few years in which it sat in Loughery’s drawer – “I didn’t really know what to do with it,” says Loughery – the writer’s manager eventually read it, and realized it needed to be made. When the script got into the hands of producer Mark Burg of the Saw franchise, the ball was rolling.
Says Burg, “David wrote Lakeview Terrace, which I thought was great. He wrote Obsessed, which I thought was terrific, and he wrote Passenger 57, which I loved. He just created a really unique idea, and I happened to be on the set of a movie called Traffik, directed by Deon Taylor, and I said, ‘Deon, I just read this script on the plane. You may want to check this out, I think there’s something to this.’ He’s in the middle of directing a movie, and he calls me the next day and says, ‘I love it. I want to make it.’ It all happened very quick, over a Saturday morning.”
Loughery couldn’t believe how rapidly the movie was coming together. “Within a week, I had met Deon and loved the guy,” he says. “He loved the script. This is the fastest I’ve ever seen a script go into production. [Deon] made it come true, and it’s really a thrill. Most of the directors I run into are just very jaded, a lot laid back, but Deon just has this kind of life force that makes you feel like, ‘Wow, I’ve got to get on the train with this guy ‘cause I think he’s going somewhere.’”
When it came to making Charlie Peck a flesh-and-blood figure of sympathy, then pity, then deception and menace, director Deon Taylor had only a few people in mind to play the character, but at the top of that list was versatile, acclaimed actor Dennis Quaid. His pitch to the actor was simple: he wanted to give Quaid a shot at his own Jack Torrance in The Shining or Annie Wilkes in Misery, roles that Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates, respectively, turned into iconic cinematic nightmares for audiences everywhere. Screenwriter David Loughery has known Quaid for decades, since Quaid starred in Loughery’s first produced script, Dreamscape, and says Quaid was on his mind from the moment he was putting Charlie to paper.
Nailing down the source of your movie’s terror is one thing, casting the right actors to play Annie and Scott, the loving couple whose own sensitive relationship is given a workover by Charlie’s interloping ways, was just as tricky. Luckily, the creative team landed Meagan Good to embody the harrowing journey Annie goes through. Good had already met with Deon Taylor once on a different project, so when the actress got her hands on The Intruder, knowing Taylor was involved, she got especially excited. In Annie, Good had a meaty role with a delicate mission: make her initial trust in Charlie believable, until the writing was on the wall.
Michael Ealy, was cast as Annie’s husband Scott. Ealy was attracted to The Intruder not only because it was a powerful story with a nail-biting premise, but that it offered a chance to work opposite Dennis Quaid. “He was a big factor in why I decided to do it,” says Ealy. “I kind of grew up on his work. The first time I remember seeing him was in Enemy Mine opposite Lou Gossett, Jr. and he was incredible. He’s just got such a legacy in terms of who he’s worked with, and his consistency as an actor. It was an opportunity to play with Roger Federer, and I want to play against the best.”
There’s no The Intruder without a house for Charlie Peck to obsess over, and with Vancouver needing to sub for the Napa Valley, the search for the right estate to enchant Scott and Annie – and inspire terrifying behavior in Charlie – was a central quest for the creative team.
Director Deon Taylor credits veteran Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti, whom he worked with on Traffik, with instilling in him the importance of a great location. Says Taylor, “As a filmmaker, you look at locations all the time, ‘That’s cool, that’s great,’ but do you really take time to look at the location? Dante was one of the first people to ever sit me down and explain to me how important a location was to a scene. So when we got ready to do a movie like this, we were riding all around Vancouver looking. I looked at 70 houses at least, maybe 150 when I count online. But it was the same cabin you see in every movie. It was just a house, the house you see on the posters for a scary movie. And I’m like man, that’s not it.”
Producer Roxanne Avent says she prefers a practical location to a set because she believes audiences respond more to a real place, but even she couldn’t believe the production’s luck that they found Foxglove, and how it spoke to the romance in the story, and the scary parts later.
As accommodating as the owners were to a month of shooting at their home, they still needed to okay changes production designer Andrew Neskoromny wanted to make to the outside so that it fit the story they were trying to tell. Mostly that meant trimming enough of the covering foliage so that the house could be more easily seen, painting shutters, installing a new door, and working on the exterior walls to the extent that the house’s historical splendor remained, yet looked like an ongoing project for a fastidious owner like Charlie.
Normally for a movie so dependent on one location, interiors would be built on a stage. But Taylor wanted to shoot at the house as much as possible, which Neskoromny looked at as a worthy challenge. “There was a certain claustrophobic quality to it that he didn’t want to lose,” says Neskoromny. “And sometimes you can lose that within a set, because the walls can come apart, everything is flexible, and you’re able to get a camera anywhere you want, even be below the floor. You can’t do that at a practical location. At the same time, there are challenges, because you’re dealing with stunts, and you have to change doorways, and remodel the architecture in certain areas, all within existing parameters. All of those things were an added level of challenge in working in this house as opposed to building a set.”