Still from 1992's "Unlawful Entry."

Unlawful Entry         

In Unlawful Entry, such a dangerous person is Pete Davis (Ray Liotta), a police officer who becomes obsessed with Michael and Karen Carr (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe), happily married suburbanites who, as the film opens, are victims of a botched home invasion. Davis is brought in to investigate, and nothing seems to be off about him — we even think he’s a nice guy, especially after he offers to help the couple install an alarm system to prevent any further break-ins. He tries to befriend the Carrs, who are welcoming.

 

But a couple prematurely personal gut-spillings and too-intimate encounters later and we’re certain that things aren’t going too well in Davis’ psyche — he’s too infatuated with Mrs. Carr and Mr. Carr’s perceived inability to adequately protect her. He’s a beast able to be passed off as normal thanks to his classic good looks, his prim manners. And as the film progresses, that normalcy progressively thins, his mania increasing.

 

Unlawful Entry wears the aesthetic of the blockbusting fluff of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and sometimes Basic Instinct (1992) in its more melodramatic moments. But unforeseen is the way it crawls under the skin. There probably aren’t too many maniac cops on the loose insinuating themselves into the lives of the people they’re supposed to be saving. But men like Pete Davis do, nonetheless, exist. He’s able to worm his way into the Carrs’ lives because they’re good-hearted people who shouldn’t have to worry about being guarded when a policeman is around — they have a reason to trust him.

 

So much of Unlawful Entry’s terror relies on how easily someone’s kindness can be exploited. Several moments of the film provide opportunities for the central protagonists to run away, to tell their harasser off. But they don’t, likely as the result of a combination of fear and an unwillingness to be discourteous. The finale is overwrought, a classic example of the trope that no villain really dies from the first supposedly lethal blow.

 

But all leading up to the climax is riddled with tension, particularly because these characters feel so unmistakably real — Russell somehow rids himself of his hyper-masculinity and Stowe feels passive. We’re worried they won’t be able to protect themselves once Davis’ delusions really get out of hand. This is a role made for Liotta, spotlighting his remarkable facility to play seemingly good guys whose inner demons are actually a great deal more out of control than we’d like to believe.

 

Unlawful Entry does sometimes tread deep into unconvincingly hysterical waters. But that doesn’t stop its relative tenability. This is a solid, effective thriller with enough realism in its heart to deliver.  B

DIRECTED BY

Jonathan Kaplan

 

STARRING

Kurt Russell

Madeleine Stowe

Ray Liotta

Roger E. Mosley

Ken Lerner

Deborah Offner

Andy Romano

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1992

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 52 Mins.

June 22, 2017

U

nlawful Entry (1992) is billed as something of a psychological thriller, but I consider it to be more psychological horror. Given that its villain is not a Pre-Code style movie monster nor a knife wielding lunatic donning a William Shatner mask, it will never really fit into the latter genre’s zeitgeist — it’s too plausible for that. But that’s why I find it so terrifying: it’s an exemplification of how frightening authority figures can be when their unlimited power and mental instability are eventually fused together.