How to Deter a Robber Review: Love In a Home Invasion
How to deter a robber? Get a dog.
From the mind of director/writer Maria Bissell comes her feature film debut How to Deter a Robber, a home invasion and romantic comedy mash-up. It’s about a young couple who have to navigate the troubles of a budding relationship while also preventing themselves from getting killed during a break in.
It’s not entirely original to deal with relationship matters during any type of movie because love is at the heart of so many films. That kind of connection is crucial to humans so it’s a common occurrence in conversations as well. But to see a flick dive as deep into that aspect during a literal forced entry was a pretty jovial experience. Jovial might be an odd descriptor for the home invasion genre since most of the time they are planted in action or horror, but that’s what How to Deter a Robber a blast.
It’s all in how Maria Bissell plays with expectations and the genres as a whole. I believe beginnings and endings are important because they bookend the entire adventure. A beginning in particular has to grab the viewer and make them engage. Otherwise you risk losing them, especially in this day and age where there are so many movies I just somehow tripped over one while typing this. And I’m sitting down.
I’m mentioning all of this not because I don’t think you understand, but because I want to reinforce how great the beginning is. It hooked me instantly. It hits all the notes: it has a fantastic musical choice that umbrellas the jovial–yeah, that word again–tone and then we are treated to some lovely atmospheric landscape shots. This kind of thing always gets me.
It rides a line between subversion and convention constantly which makes it both predictable and unpredictable, depending on the place in the movie. This means that it’s not always a slave to the home invasion or romance genres, but it knows enough to respect what works within them. That it’s focused more on being a comedy rather than a straight-laced attempt allows it to be more playful and toy with its watchers.
I was especially fond of the robbers themselves. Without getting into too much detail, as to avoid spoiling it, there’s an interesting but dangerous dynamic between them that threatened to sink the movie. Luckily, Bissell managed to hit a nice balance which prevented it from just becoming cringe-inducing dialogue. I’ve seen other movies tank because it tried too hard and this inched close to it on occasion but never over the line.
However, for as good as I think the robbers were, my praise is a reminder of the lower points of the movie. I can’t criticize a lot of it but for a romantic comedy it misses the comedic beats a little more than I would have liked. The jokes don’t have to always land to be a successful comedy, and many are aware of this so they launch gag after gag onto the viewer relentlessly to make up for the shortcomings inherit in the genre (humour being very subjective). Bissell doesn’t fall into the latter category, thankfully, and that saves it, but because she was a lot more frugal with the wisecracks–in part because she’s also juggling a disparate genre–there were extended periods of time where I didn’t laugh. With that said, I almost forgot about that specific flaw once the robbers showed up, and that seemed to uplift the entire film as a whole.
Vanessa Marano plays Madison, a conflicted 18-year-old girl who is trying to make something of herself. Opposite her in this relationship equation is is Benjamin Papac as Jimmy, an earnest attempt at the lovable idiot trope. One of them worked for me, and the other did not. This may seem like a backhanded compliment but she reminded me of a Zoey Deutch lite. This means that she’s incredibly charming while not requiring us to throw awards at her for how good she is. It’s a dependable and believable performance while not needing a lot of heavy lifting. I love Zoey Deutch and Marano occupied a similar territory as Madison.
On the other hand, Papac himself was fine as Jimmy but the character didn’t work most of the time. He was merely a body to allow Madison to explore herself. It wasn’t that Bissell didn’t mean for him to be more than he was–she gives him some more serious moments, for example–but he wasn’t funny enough to be endearing. That lead to the emotional moments falling flat. At least the chemistry between them was decent, even if only one them oozed charisma.
I have to give special mention to Chris Mulkey, who plays Madison’s uncle Andy. He’s a man who has clearly had enough of useless crap but also loves his niece. Mulkey has had an expansive career and if I may get a little meta for a moment, the experience he has in the industry translated beautifully to the weariness that his character must feel. He answers everything with a collected and wise demeanour, and every time he was on-screen it was a treat. Incredible casting.
How to Deter a Robber just screened at Fantastic Fest and I do hope that it catches a lot more eyes when it releases into the wild. It may be imperfect but that doesn’t mean it’s not great; it ascends its minor flaws and remains a joyful romp from beginning to end.
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THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
I LIKE MASKS JUST LIKE I LIKE THIS MOVIE, MAYBE I SHOULD BE A CRIMINAL TOO
How to Deter a Robber has some slight issues that hold it back a bit, but Vanessa Marano is charming as Madison and really helps this. It also plays with the genres it dabbles in enough to be unpredictable while also respecting convention when necessary. It’s a great time.