This doesn’t happen too often – two films of the same specific sub-genre being released so closely to each other. In this case, the genre is the “home invasion thriller”. One’s really good, the other is really bad. Becky, the really good one, did a great job entertaining audiences with lots of inventive action. Its comparable evil twin, Survive the Night, takes us to the upside-down. It’s boring, illogical and its most famous star, Bruce Willis, literally sits it out. Eleven years ago, Kevin James was playing an obnoxious parody of Bruce Willis’ character from Die Hard in Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In 2020, Bruce Willis could learn some tips from Kevin James.
The film’s premise has potential: Rich (Chad Michael Murray), a disgraced doctor, retaliates to his parents’ home to lick his wounds when, suddenly, an injured criminal holds Rich and his family hostage, giving the doctor an ultimatum – heal the crook or be killed by his merciless sidekick. And despite their disagreements, Rich desperately looks to his dismissive father (Willis) for encouragement.
Director Matt Eskandari and screenwriter Doug Wolfe establish their movie in cheap ways. Not in ways that are audacious, but rather through disturbing contrivances. For instance, early on, a vulnerable pedestrian is used as a manipulative device to establish how cruel the villains are. A pregnant woman, minding her own business in a gas station convenience store, is shot point blank in the back of the head by the nastier crook, Jamie (Shea Buckner). This leads to a shoot-out that leaves Jamie’s partner-in-crime Mathias (Tyler Jon Olson) wounded and looking for quick assistance, hence the hold-up at Rich’s. Eskandari and Wolfe don’t see an issue with clouding their movie with sour scenes like this one, as long as it communicates characterization. The problem is these scenes are disposable and are never referred to again. They don’t build towards anything, and only point towards general traits that make these characters a little bit more than one-dimensional – barely.
Murray and Willis know *exactly* the type of movie they’re starring in, but they’ve interpreted the film differently. Murray, smothering his usual charisma, believes in the drama and portrays Rich’s stress with quiet panic. It’s not a memorable performance, but at least he’s trying to flex within this flawed flick. As for Willis, this is a generic thriller and he’s programmed himself accordingly. Unlike Murray, Willis hasn’t bothered to explore his character’s range. Instead, he plays a basic cranky father archetype who spends most of the movie sitting down. I would blame this staging on poor direction if Willis hadn’t been caught doing this same schtick in recent movies.
Survive the Night constantly passes up opportunities to build on minor momentum. There’s a narrow chance filmmakers could pull off this subdued approach to a home invasion thriller but, in that case, the film has to have fully fleshed-out characters or tension – the film doesn’t supply either.
You’ll stick it out, waiting for the film to serve up a surprise, but Survive the Night only disappoints.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie