Not long ago, home invasion movies became popular. Titles like The Strangers, You're Next, and The Purge purported to be based on "true" events, and were utterly nihilistic. Residents were victimized in their own homes, pursued and dispatched by a masked enemy, whose purpose was little more than mindless brutality. Nobody got out alive.
It was difficult to understand the appeal of these films. They violate the very notion of a safe haven, yet audiences found delicious thrills in watching people just like them hunted in their own home.
It was only a matter of time before the pendulum swung. The Last House on the Left got a big budget remake. Panic Room turned the tables with high Hollywood gloss. The blind veteran in Don't Breathe was not as helpless as assumed and used his special forces skills to best invaders.
And now, from Italy, we get The Goldsmith (L'Orafo), directed by Vincenzo Ricchiuto, whose resumé includes gangster pictures like Milano in the Cage (2016).
In The Goldsmith, three motley leather-clad criminals (Tania Bambaci, Mike Cimini, and Gianluca Vannucci) target the home of what they assume is a defenseless elderly couple (Stefania Casini and Giuseppe Pambieri). The criminals believe the man, a master goldsmith, has treasure hidden on the premises. Wearing rubber masks of big crying baby faces, they burst into the house, rough up the old man and his wife, and in the basement seemingly find what they came for, a vault of valuables. But as they fill their pockets and argue amongst themselves, an iron door closes behind them, trapping them, and the old man's voice comes over the monitor. He knows who these ingrates are and, as we find out, was expecting them. The vault has become a cell, and they are his prisoners.
The tables have definitely turned.
But have they turned for the better? In this sort of film, the thrill comes from watching the prey becoming the predator, and the sequences in which this happens are exhilarating. The criminals are a collection of neuroses and resentments. One imagines justice coming down, but if one really thinks about it, justice is boring. These three vandals are transgressors and should get their comeuppance.
To its credit, the plot of The Goldsmith goes off in unpredictable directions. Dark secrets are revealed, alliances are tested, suspense is built. But the kindly and feeble old couple reveal themselves to be downright evil, even more than their captives. Grandpa is not just a master artisan but an aspiring surgeon. Cue the cringe. The old man's predilections don't make a whole lot of sense, and squeamish viewers might feel as if they've bilked into a bloodbath. We get more than we paid for in gore.
The film is designed to launch a Goldsmith franchise, and the saving grace, if there is one, is that there's little here that lends itself to a sequel. The final images are gruesome and ludicrous and, with any luck, lead nowhere else.
The Goldsmith. Directed by Vincenzo Ricchiuto. 2023. Produced by Almost Famous Dea films. From Cinephobia Releasing. 84 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. On DVD and VOD Oct. 3.