Review: The Invasion (2016)
With shades of Bryan Bertino's The Strangers and a few nods to the Manson Murders of 1969, Brett McBean's latest horror novel, The Invasion, tells the grim story of a home invasion that unravels during a single night of terror. And much like in Bertino's film and in those real-life atrocities that marked the end of 1960s counterculture, the results are terrifying, bleak, and at times depraved. Best read over the course of just a day or two, The Invasion is a no-holds-barred descent into cult-crazy madness.
Through lean prose The Invasion wastes no time in introducing its primary characters and immediate conflict. In the sweltering heat of an Australian December, the Hillsboro family and their friends have just settled down for the evening. The spacious house seems quiet and calm, dimly lit as characters head off to bed after a night of Mexican food, mojitos, and good conversation. However, the ominous sound of dogs barking from outside is the first signal that not everything is so peaceful. When the intruders do arrive, walking easily into the unlocked home and rounding up its inhabitants, they bring with them their own brand of modern terror, using cell phones to photograph and film the acts of brutality that they systematically dish out on their victims. Led by the eerie figure Mr. Fear, the intruders each have their own unusual personality traits and insane behaviors; even their monikers (for example, Black Metal Freak) sound like deranged screen names from some deviant website or chat room. Unlike David Fincher's home-invasion thriller Panic Room, in which the intruders were seeking a large stash of money, the young villains in McBean's fast-paced novel have no tangible objective. Their only goal is to cause mayhem, instill fear, and capture their murders on "vid."
The unique narrative structure of The Invasion serves to heighten the suspense of the story. Each chapter is titled with the name of the room in which the current action takes place--the master bedroom, the lounge room, the front hallway, and so on. In this way, the house becomes an important character in the novel; in fact, the characters must rely on the house itself if they are to have any chance of survival. A bathroom window may or may not become an escape route; a loft might hold the key to getting help; the swimming pool might be one's deliverance. An additional impressive feature of McBean's novel is that it never ventures into "torture porn" territory, nor does it wallow in the aberrant sexuality of the intruders. Instead, the author presents a new kind of tormentor and killer, one obsessed with technology and with achieving a twisted sort of internet fame through committing heinous acts. Make no mistake--The Invasion is a violent novel and McBean never shies away from the gruesome and the gory. But he also presents characters--from the kindhearted Hillsboro family to the self-absorbed killers--who are interesting and dynamic. The author's writing style is generally crisp and clean, the word choices simple but accurate, the chapters short and brisk. Horror fans of all kinds will enjoy The Invasion and its frightening, modern-day implications.
Some quibbles. To emphasize their youth, their callous indifference to the past, and their obsession with the latest technology, the book includes a brief scene in which the intruders barely recognize a vinyl record and don't know how to operate a record player. But early in the novel, one of the intruders paraphrases the words of Tex Watson, one of the Manson family killers, so the villains of McBean's story must have at least some knowledge of eras other than their own. More to the point, with the internet helping to reignite interest in vinyl, it seems unlikely the intruders would not grasp the medium. At times the intruders are surprisingly casual in orchestrating their night of savagery; they don't seem that concerned when characters flee the house, nor does the presence of police nearby seem to worry them. The intruders also occasionally fall victim to the curse of the "talkative villain," explaining their plans, motivations, and concerns in front of their victims. While these issues might occasionally distract, they will not prevent readers from becoming engrossed in McBean's savage tale.
Over 40 years have passed since a beautiful and talented actress and four others were brutally slain in a mansion near Beverly Hills; and the very next day, two more murders occurred in Los Feliz, cementing a horrific legacy that will most likely last forever. Brett McBean's The Invasion invokes the Manson Murders with gut-wrenching realism and graphic depictions of violence, while at the same time striking its own resounding chord in the home-invasion genre. Enter into the diabolical world of this novel and you won't look at the internet, your cell phone, or even your own home the same way again. Highly recommended--but lock your doors first.
Brett McBean's The Invasion is available from Sinister Grin Press here.