You’d be hard pressed not to compare Tiger House to Adam Wingard’s similarly pitched home invasion thriller You’re Next.
It’s an apt comparison, as Tom Daley’s debut feature is a lean, mean 80-minute film about a woman trapped in a house with a team of trained killers. The crucial difference is that this film is far more interested in delivering its own unique set of thrills than in exploring the meta-game of horror cinema. In that sense, Tiger House is a stylishly executed film with a handful of deadly tricks up its sleeve.
Kaya Scodelario stars as Kelly, a young woman we first meet sneaking into the bedroom window of her boyfriend, Mark (Daniel Boyd). Kelly has become exceptionally good at hiding from Mark’s mother (Julie Summers), who looks down her nose at Kelly and thinks her son should be dating someone a little more posh. Kelly’s skills come in handy that night when a team of criminals storm the house, tying up Mark and his family. It’s not immediately clear what the criminals are after, but once Kelly escapes Mark’s room, she begins playing a game of cat and mouse with the team’s youngest member, Callum (Ed Skrein).
From the get-go, the film establishes a creeping, voyeuristic tone, as the opening credits play out over CCTV footage of robberies and other crimes. Later, we see the raid on Mark’s home from various vantage points through a series of security cameras. For a moment, it seems as though the film might play out largely in a found-footage style, but soon enough the camera settles closely on Kelly’s frightened gaze. Kelly is trapped under Mark’s bed for the first half hour or so, as the criminals lay injured comrade Shane (Dougray Scott) right on top of her. The enclosed space, coupled with the extreme proximity of the criminals makes this opening act riveting. Once our heroine escapes the confines of that bedroom, though, the film’s pace starts to flag.
The actual heist at the heart of Tiger House is not particularly important, as we mostly hear about it over police scanners and walkie-talkies. The film is much more interested in Kelly’s attempts to evade Callum, and likewise Callum’s goofy desire to wreck up the place just for kicks. As brief and economical as the film often is, it is also not shy about laying out tons of character development, though sometimes in monologues that don’t always seem relevant. Callum explains his violent past to Kelly as a way of intimidating her, then later Shane explains his relationship with Callum’s father. The former makes sense, and it’s possible he’s just straight up lying to her, but the latter feels like a bridge too far. They make such a fuss over not using real names or discussing personal business that when they do, it’s hard to know what to trust.
Still, Kaya Scodelario and Ed Skrein do some great work, both together and on their own. Scodelario (last seen in the Maze Runner films) plays Kelly as a more grounded character than we’re used to seeing in thrillers like this. She’s not above finding the nearest window and breathlessly screaming for help, then sobbing in the corner when none arrives. Meanwhile, Skrein is much more convincing as a young thug than he is as a Transporter. He’s having more fun with this role, which lets him skulk around the house threatening to beat people’s heads in with a cricket bat.
Of course, Tiger House is not without its faults. We can see the setups that will eventually get paid off coming a mile away, such as the crossbow that gets established half a dozen times before Kelly ever actually fires it. The film also has its share of glaring visual cheats (the criminals sometimes don’t see Kelly when she’s right in front of them), and the spatial logistics sometimes don’t make sense, but it’s so good at building tension through other means that these things are easy to overlook. If you’re in the mood for something off the beaten path this holiday weekend, this scrappy little film is well worth checking out.
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