Unlawful Entry (1992)
Unlawful Entry (1992)

Genre: Crime Drama and Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Release Date: June 26th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jonathan Kaplan Actors: Kurt Russell, Ray Liotta, Madeleine Stowe, Roger E. Mosley, Ken Lerner, Deborah Offner, Carmen Argenziano, Sherrie Rose

 


 

“I

heard a noise from downstairs.” Late one night as Michael Carr (Kurt Russell, honing his persona as the everyman) chats argumentatively on the phone with a work associate, wife Karen (Madeleine Stowe) stirs alone in the bedroom (with orange cat Tiny). It’s probably the wind, but Michael searches the house, armed with a golf club. It isn’t enough, however, to foil the very real intruder, who snags Karen and briefly puts a knife to her neck as he makes a successful getaway.

“We’ve had a bunch of break-ins in this area lately.” LAPD Officers Pete Davis (Ray Liotta) and Roy Cole (Roger E. Mosley) arrive shortly thereafter to investigate, though their main advice is to not buy a gun, as Michael immediately suggests. The wrong people always get hurt. Maybe they’ll get an alarm system and a vicious dog instead.

“I don’t think I can live here anymore.” Karen is understandably rattled, but when she calls up the police the following day, Davis readily arranges for fingerprint dusting and a comprehensive security system installation, which puts her mind at ease. He even stays that evening for dinner, and offers to take Michael for a ride-along to bolster his courage, considering how helpless the man must have felt having seen his wife momentarily taken hostage. And that proves to be a startlingly adventurous experience.

“You think you might be overreacting a little bit?” Interestingly, the setup doesn’t prepare audiences for what is to come. It takes nearly 30 minutes before the real thrills begin, revealing one man’s volatility and another’s reluctance toward violence. It’s an epic test of masculinity and formidability – and control; the magisterial versus the meek (hinting at themes from “Straw Dogs”). The jump scares during the initial break-in are nothing compared to the psychological anxiety, provocation, humiliation, manipulation, extreme invasion of privacy, diminishing outside resources, and devious sowing of distrust that occur as the plot unbearably thickens. Adding to this is James Horner’s subtle yet superb music, which heightens the tension or generates a false sense of levity at all the right moments.

“What are you gonna do? Call the cops?” As a taut thriller, “Unlawful Entry” is entirely effective in creating agitation and discomfort – and then stretching it out to immerse viewers in the same protracted mental anguish as the protagonists. Interestingly, the villain isn’t a total psychopath; he’s a slowly unraveling, delusional character, who calculatingly misuses his position of power to get what he wants. It’s even more disturbing considering his unchecked anger, his connections, and his lack of oversight.

This may only be a movie, but the potential for realism – for these scenarios of unrelenting torment to be exploited in real life – is absolutely staggering. And, of course, they make for a riveting film. The conclusion, expectedly, wanders down the path of over-the-top, excessive revenge fantasy and home invasion horror, not unlike “Pacific Heights” from a couple of years prior, amplifying the chills but dispensing with the sensibility. Nevertheless, it’s a satisfying, rambunctious, cinematic end to a troubling predicament (itself both authentically grounded and fit for the big screen).

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10