The Owners (2020)

Director: Julius Berg

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Certification: 18

Starring: Maisie Williams, Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham, Ian Kenny, Andrew Ellis, Jake Curran, Stacha Hicks

For his directorial debut, Julius Berg opens the film on the sounds of wildlife, set to the opening credits. What follows are the sights of the rural countryside, juxtaposed by loud music, blaring from inside a parked car. Sitting within are friends Nathan (Ian Kenny) and Terry (Andrew Ellis), joined by the mysterious Gaz (Jake Curran), as they watch a retired couple in their isolated house.

They intend to break into the house when it is empty, and take all that lies within the safe, a plan disliked by Mary (Maisie Williams), girlfriend to Nathan. When the thieves are unable to open the safe, they wait for the couple's return, to make them give up the secret of the safe. They believe it will be easy, yet find themselves unprepared for what lies ahead.

Working on the screenplay with Mathieu Gompel, Julius Berg adapts a graphic novel by Hermann and Yves H., entitled Une nuit de pleine lune. What unfolds is rather grim and nasty, containing lashings of well-constructed gore, yet these don't make up for how lacking in tension the film is. While the premise brings to mind Don't Breathe, Fede Álvarez's 2016 film, this comparison does The Owners no favours.

The largest difference lays with the characters, and this is where the Don't Breathe comparisons come in full-force. Fede Álvarez's feature gave the robbers characterisation and empathy, so that you cared when the robbers became the victims. That unfortunately doesn't happen here, as the characters are too thinly-sketched, and veer towards cartoonish. Attempts to redeem Nathan feel inadequate, while Gaz is too much of a caricature to take seriously. The worst offender is Terry, an infuriating presence who's little more than a gullible hinderance, too wrapped up in his romantic fantasies to see the danger right in front of him.

Of the lead characters, only Mary comes off well, thanks to a combination to her being the only level-headed character, and Maisie Williams doing good work in the role. Acting opposite her are the besieged couple, portrayed by Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham. Their roles initially seem harmless, as the kindly old doctor, and the wife suffering from memory problems. The pair are compelling as the loving couple, kindly and empathetic, before they're thrust into a hellish ordeal, and are just as believable once the tables are turned. Their committed performances are a bright spark within a tepid 92-minutes, the majority of which you'll struggle to recall afterwards.

The Owners is available on Digital Platforms 22nd February and DVD 1st March