THE OWNERS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony spends an evening in the country.

That’s the key to The Owners, the new adaptation of French graphic novel Une nuit de pleine lune (novel written by Yves H. and Hermann). Who has what kind of character? Who is savage? Who has guts? Who’s a worm that turns? And can you always, or can you ever, trust to first impressions?

What we ultimately have here is a home invasion drama in which the character of almost every participant is tested. But it strives for better than that description promises, and for the most part, it delivers.

Initially, we’re introduced to a gang of pot-smoking (Ooh, the dangerous hoodlums) young wannabe safe-crackers, as they case the joint of a village doctor and his wife. The idea is that the couple will be going out for a regular excursion, the thugs will break in, open a much-rumoured safe, scoop the swag, and ride off into the sunset. Notably, the gang are all local lads, bar one. Nathan (Ian Kenny) is a weak-willed young man, trapped in a parochial village in Britain in the 90s, determined to escape, but locked into a cycle of poverty and excuses. Terry (Andrew Ellis) is his chubby, principled sidekick, who once went out with the sister of Nathan’s girlfriend, Mary (Maisie Williams). Gaz (Jake Curran) is the outsider, the wideboy, the hard nut in the housebreaking game, going through with it to pay off somebody serious to whom he owes the kind of money that equates to bodily damage on non-repayment. These three are given these motivations and work them well and naturally – never overly pushing them to the foreground, but understanding how the motivations dictate their actions.
Maisie Williams is almost always good value for money, and it’s a mark of the quality of the scripting here that the film secures her in a lead role. Mary is the avatar of strong moral objection increasingly overcome, but which still shines through a world going madder and madder.

Because you should know, it does. In The Owners, very little of what you first see turns out to be anything like as simple as it pretends to be. The doctor and his wife, The Hugginses, are both exactly what they appear to be – an ageing couple, coping with the challenges of increasing age – and also rather more besides, though exactly what the nature of their deeper selves is, it would be spoilerific to tell you.

Suffice for now to know that the Hugginses are played by veteran actors Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham, both of whom have a lot of form in embodying complex characters. Tushingham invests Mrs Huggins with at first an amiably dotty, childlike quality, which is shorthand here for a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s. McCoy on the other hand has made most of his acting career on the borderlines between the normal, daylight nature he so easily conveys, and something altogether darker, deeper and more sinister. The Owners then is meat and drink to them both, with McCoy in particular giving a performance that is barnstorming, without ever going screamingly over the top. As has often been the case in his best roles, McCoy makes a tour de force out of seeming powerless, but really being in command of dangerous situations. If you ever wanted a masterclass in subdued but pulsing power, it’s McCoy in this movie.
But that’s a thing about The Owners overall – the characters all feel very much inhabited, real human beings with their own orbits, their own problems, their own private spinning motivations, rather than parts that have been written played.

Curran’s Gaz has the energy of a force of wanton destruction, kicking out against the establishment rich and powerful, because every victory against their sort is a victory that validates his own life. Kenny’s Nathan would happily leave everything and everyone behind, but has no real stomach for Gaz’s hardcore attitude to destruction and violence – a conflict that develops early when things go badly wrong trying to break into the Huggins’ safe. Ellis’ Terry is a proto-incel, still wearing all the friendly disguise of the ‘nice guy.’ Every one of his contemporaries despises him, and his girlfriend too apparently felt contempt for him before she left.

Left, or went missing.

Because that’s another thread in the movie. Young people, young women especially, tend to disappear from the village. On the one hand, there’s little about this that’s treated as suspicious – young women frequently leave a cloying village atmosphere and never look back. On the other… well… you have to wonder.

The Huggins’ daughter, Kate, ran away from home, certainly. They were respectable enough for there to be a fuss made. Newspaper cuttings. Scrapbooks full. But as time went on, young women disappearing became just a thing that happened.

Or was it?

Both writer Mattieu Gompel and debut director Julius Berg do a more than adequate job of playing the staccato violin-strings of your nerves as you try to work out what’re real in the first half of the movie, so by the time things start to make sense in The Owners, you’ve already been back and forth a handful of times on what it is you’re actually watching.

When the simple safecracking job turns into more of a home-invasion-cum-torture job for perfectly logical on-screen reasons, the test of character is sprung. Who has it in them to break Doctor and Mrs Huggins? What will it take for them to give up the combination to their safe? And when things get messy, who will turn out to have the strength of commitment to do what must be done?

This is the thread which sees Maisie Williams step up to the nuanced performances of the veterans. As Mary, she’s initially entirely against the safe-crack. But bit by bit, she finds herself lured into the house by her boyfriend Nathan. There are even gracenotes to the sexist writing of some 80s horror films – despite being realistically annoyed with Nathan for his part in the break-in, Mary begins to be seduced by his kisses and blandishments. At one point, she’s also physically threatened by Gaz, and the dark shadow of male physical dominance rears its head. And at another point, even Terry makes a play for sex with her. It’s to the credit of both the writers and Williams’ performance that at each point, they rise above these 80s cliches, having Mary respond with a realistic what-the-hell moment that defies the lazy writing of another age. In fact, while never being either an angel or a stock scream queen, Williams’ Mary drives ever more towards the centre of the movie, becoming our heroic avatar as the action develops and the things of which we thought we were certain are peeled away from us.

Bottom line, The Owners is a significantly better movie than many home invasion shlockfests out there. The writing is reasonably sparse until you’re quite far into the movie, where you want the horror throttles opened up a bit more. It doesn’t disappoint on that score either, building from surgery and buzz-saw threat, through incarceration and bargaining, into a knock-down drag-out contest for survival till the morning light. The ending, we should tell you, is ghastly. We’re not going to tell you how it’s ghastly, but every character left has a surprise in score. And, in one final script-flip, the movies doesn’t end at all how you’d think it would. That means that The Owners keeps punching above the weight of your expectation all the way to the end.

McCoy is on staggering form here as a man whose love for his wife subsumes all else, but is rooted in a kind of cowardice when it comes to challenging his life’s sadness. Tushingham’s performance is brave and powerful, twitchy and always on point, as though she can smell the true nature of each of the characters (though what she smells about them is filtered through her character’s own disjointed moralism). Williams confidently grows from side-character to central protagonist and drives us to that unexpected end point. And the three hoodlums each have their moment to prove the kind of person they are, and the different kinds of scum that forms on the top of a stagnant character.

As an hour and a half of nerve-shredding what-the-hellery, delivered by a cast on the top of its form, you can get a lot out of The Owners. It may not be what you aimed to get out when you paid your admission money, but it’s nevertheless a ride that’s well worth taking.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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