(Luis Prieto, USA, 2022)


Mostly, it’s a home invasion movie – a thriller format that stretches back a long way, at least to the 1940s. Usually, the target for such invasion is a family; in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), it’s a couple. In the case of Shattered, however, our not very lovable but besieged hero, Chris (Cameron Monaghan), is fashionably alone. I say fashionable, because so many stories of every stripe and medium begin today from the banal fact of a divorce-in-process; this one starts with a testy dialogue between Cameron in his home and his soon-to-be-ex, Jamie (Sasha Luss), on a screen. There is a small child, Willow (Ridley Bateman), who inevitably gets passed between them. No wonder Chris finds himself picking up a waif in the supermarket one stark, late night …


There are other, more crucial updates to the old formula. Not simply the presence of newer technologies of surveillance and security (Chris himself is the inventor of the fabulous ‘WatchDog’ system) – as in Fear (1996), there’s the matter of whom you should trust your codes to – but also the level of wealth and luxury. Shattered is part of a relatively recent cycle, including Knock Knock (Eli Roth, 2015), Revenge (Coralie Fargeat, 2017) and the Amy Seimetz stream of the TV series The Girlfriend Experience (season 2, 2017), where the invaded home is very swish, indeed. Cold, alienated, empty – a hundred glass walls, windows and panels giving way to infinite desert and sky vistas in every direction – but swish. Inside such places, the (sometimes talky) neo-techno appliances do everything from shutting garage doors and triggering entertainment diversions to co-ordinating light shows and strategically locking-in as often as they lock-out (see Rolf de Heer’s Alexandra’s Project [2003]). Shattered even repossesses La Vie nouvelle’s avant-garde device of scary thermal photography at a high plateau of tension: but in colour!



The special touch here is the class-war angle. Like The Hunt (Craig Zobel, 2020), Shattered is keen to drag in representative embodiments of ‘Trump’s America’ – an entire disaffected working- or under-class. In movies, they tend to be a resentful, backward lot: that’s signalled from an early moment here when Sky (Lilly Krug), returning to her cheap rental apartment from a one-nighter, is greeted by her bug-eyed, tongue-slobbering, shockingly dressed landlord (John Malkovich, among the film’s producers) moralistically chanting “Walk of shame!”. Ideology is on the side of such common folk these days – with the ultra-modern twist that Chris the high-bourgeois businessman even gets, at one point, to decry the proletariat’s “socio-political bullshit”! That’s tellin’ ‘em.


Beyond morals, though, the smartest denizens of this underclass simply want what is coming to them – a piece of the action, a nice home or car, LED screen TV and unlimited Internet bandwidth. Hence Shattered’s best moments, when the cultural geography of this piece of Montana – the little people literally “down there” staring up at, and carefully studying, the lifestyles of the rich and famous – is made dramatically explicit. (Literally, a telescope for such spying figures prominently in the plot.) Hence, also, the spillover effect of gleeful, anti-social destruction of this Good Life: even a Picasso “worth millions” isn’t going to save landlord Malkovich when the human animals start turning against each other.


Sky (Krug has one of those glassy, sharply angular faces, in the contemporary vein of Jodie Comer and Anya Taylor-Joy, that switches spookily in a split-second from sweet pixie-girl to deranged killer) is the central figure around which these dynamics revolve. The seemingly random, surprise character introduced ‘by chance’ at the one-hour mark, Sebastian (Frank Grillo), can discursively lay out the terms of class envy (and revenge), but it’s Sky who can truly dish out its practical consequences. Even the not-well-resolved device of dragging Jamie and Willow into the fray for the final domestic showdown (think The Hand that Rocks the Cradle [1992], Enough [2002], a dozen others … ) shunts into a weird attempt to win some pathos for Sky. Can the average American psycho-gal on-the-make in the era of Zola (2021) get a little dignity, please? So much vaguely incestuous trauma in her past, so little ego-identity she can truly call her own …


Luis Prieto, who I noted for his hypnotically odd action film Kidnap (2017), directs proceedings economically enough. DOP Juanmi Azpiroz (who shot the enjoyable Boss Level [2020]) gives it an appropriately icy look. But the thriller-coordinates, and their slightly jazzy variation here and there (the security thumbprint bit is a nice bit of Grand Guignol), clearly belong to screenwriter David Loughery, who has dabbled, thriller-wise (he does sci-fi too), in everything from Joseph Ruben specials The Stepfather (1987), The Good Son (1993) and Penthouse North (2013) – the first two of those uncredited – through to Obsessed (2009), The Intruder (2019) and Fatale (2020), the latter two directed by Deon Taylor (thereby ringing in the upper-middle-class, African-American thriller territory that Tyler Perry also sometimes mines, for instance in Acrimony [2018]). I’d look at any film – especially any generic thriller – Loughery has scripted.

© Adrian Martin 20 January 2022

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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