Maisie Williams may have carved out a niche as the girl-who-takes-no-shit all the way back in the first season of Game of Thrones, but we should not overlook a possibly related talent—her “lord, boys are stupid” face. When did Williams perfect this look? In “Winter is Coming”? Somewhere further down the line? Regardless, her ability to convey with but a glance exactly how much (or little) she thinks of macho intellect comes in handy in Julius Berg’s The Owners.
A “home invasion with a twist” thriller, The Owners is a part of that sub-genre in which bad people break into a seemingly harmless person’s abode and find that they’re not so harmless after all. As Mary, Williams gets plenty of chances to use that aforementioned look for her male compatriots—boyfriend Nathan (Ian Kenny), his slovenly sad sack buddy Terry (Andrew Ellis), and their mutual high-strung associate Gaz (Jake Curran). Berg opens on the guys getting baked in their car, which they’ve parked on a hill overlooking the verdant homestead of Richard (Sylvester McCoy) and Ellen Huggins (Rita Tushingham). Terry’s mom cleans the house, and according to his secondhand knowledge, there’s a safe in the basement likely loaded with cash. Richard’s a doctor. Given that and the size of the manse, Nathan and the gang assume he’s richer than a chocolate éclair.
Not surprisingly given this particular crew, their plan to burglarize the home when the couple leave for the day goes badly from the start. Not only is safecracker Gaz unable to crack it, he also happens to be a violent lunatic who gleefully wrecks the place as he looks for the safe. When the Hugginses come home ahead of schedule, the trio, plus a reluctant Mary, tie them up and take them to the basement, where things go awry. Generally, when a victim forks over cash without fuss but balks at surrendering the safe combination, it’s smart to assume the safe has something in it other than money. Berg withholds what that “something” is to nearly the literal last minute, spending the other 60 in between screwing with viewers’ heads.
There’s an EC Comics vibe to The Owners, an immediate creepiness in the air as Berg’s characters get closer to finding out the Hugginses secrets. It’s practically in the film’s DNA. Typically, stories like these function as the scales of justice: punishing the wicked by turning the tables on them. Here, “wickedness” is relative, with each would-be cat burglar falling in a different shade of moral gray. (Rather than “good” and “bad,” The Owners goes by “bad” and “worse,” with Gaz shuffled under the latter and the rest under the former.)
Based on Hermann and Yves H.’s graphic novel Une nuit de pleine lune, The Owners runs at a brisk 90 or so minutes, which could’ve been pruned down to an even leaner 80. That’s a small change, certainly, but significant enough to keep the movie’s adrenaline up: Crazy as the narrative gets, there are plenty of moments that weigh down the narrative with unnecessary ballast that doesn’t actually pay off. Still, more of The Owners means more time spent with Williams and especially McCoy, relishing the chance to play a part as affably sinister as Richard, who goes from seemingly timid to visibly pleased with himself as he smoothly misleads his uninvited guests. Together, McCoy and Williams make The Owners stand out. Newness is a big ask for movies visiting territory this familiar. Two outstanding central performances, however, make a much more reasonable expectation.
Director: Julius Berg
Writer: Julius Berg, Mathieu Gompel
Starring: Maisie Williams, Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham, Ian Kenny, Andrew Ellis, Jake Curran
Release Date: September 9, 2020
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.