Written by: NicolŠs Casariego (screenplay), Jaime Marques (screenplay)
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Starring: Clive Owen, Ella Purnell, and IzŠn Corchero
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Monsters are cowards. You stand up to them, they run away."
"Not this one."
"Not this one."
Juan Carlos Fresnadilloís third film doesnít lack for ambition; even though itís tackling the well-worn ground of childhood trauma and boogeymen (but letís be honest--what ground isnít well-worn at this point?), it largely does so with a serious lens. Intruders isnít just another movie about monsters in the closet going bump in the night--it has plenty of that, but itís more concerned with what those monsters might represent and how they can be passed along throughout generations. The problem comes when Fresnadillo begins to lose his grip on that balance, as the film degenerates from its intriguing setup into another clichťd mass of jump scares, creepy imagery, and ham-fisted literalism that undercuts the power of the story being told here.
Itís a two-pronged tale that jumps back and forth between Spain and England, where two different children are haunted by a ghastly figure known as Hollowface. Both Juan (Izan Corchero) and Mia (Ella Purnell) believe they have crafted the mythology of this malevolent force who tries to steal the face of children, and both are alarmed when their stories begin to come true. Juanís mother (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) summons priests and exorcists, while Miaís father (Clive Owen) installs a security system to protect his daughter when Hollowface stalks into her room one night. As both stories continue to unfold, it become obvious that this legend has somehow intruded into reality as the children continue to tell the story.
I love the setup here. The double narrative sort of reminds me of the way Takashi Shimizu employed a similar tactic in Ju-On (and I guess the subject is a little similar) to tell a sprawling story that really drives home the recurring nature of spirits and ghosts. Intruders feels like that, at least for a while--thereís a general feeling that these two threads are somehow tied together (or maybe itís just really hopeful thinking--otherwise, itíd just be two haunted kid stories mashed up, and nobody would want that) and thereís even an awesome hook with the two kids trying to reckon with it all by turning it into a story. The tableís set for a nicely perceptive and possibly highly symbolic look at how childhood trauma manifests itself and forces us to deal with it. Think the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street, except instead of turning your back on the monster, you have to confront it and work through exactly why itís popping up under your bed or in your closet.
Unfortunately, all of thatís largely yanked off the table and the movie goes another direction with it once the big twist hits with about fifteen minutes left or so. The other direction is a fine one, but Fresnadillo delivers it with too heavy a hand, and what was a pretty decent look into childrenís psyche turns into a more specific, intimate story that still retains some interesting subtexts, but the climax resorts to supernatural chicanery and over-explained twists. Once a nightmare is explained away, itís usually not quite as haunting, and thatís the case here, especially when the rationale isnít all that logical anyway. When itís all said and done, it turns out that the filmís unique structure has just served to over-complicate a pretty simple pseudo-ghost story about personal demons, with the big twist acting more of a shocker (if you donít see it coming 30 minutes in, anyway) than an earned narrative conceit that would add depth.
It sort of feels like an elaborate parlor trick to conceal the lack of real ingenuity at the center of Intruders, which is too bad because it seems pretty obvious that Fresnadillo was on to something pretty good here before bungling the ending. Even if Iím not a huge fan of its flatness of his pallid, somber aesthetic, the film is adequately moody and atmospheric, and Hollowface is a decent representation of childhood fear. A man without a face, he reflects the anxieties of growing up and carving your own identity, and the possible hint of Jungian synchronicity occurring between the two kids opens up a lot of avenues about the universality of all this shit. Instead, the movie just sticks to the easy stuff--the creepy shadows flitting in the background, the tame exorcisms, the psychological ambiguity of it all. As far as ghost stories go, itís got a requisite amount of bumps and fake-outs during those sequences, but the film otherwise lurches to its conclusion with repetitive sequences (Hollowface makes a return appearance in Miaís bedroom, for example) and a deflating sense of tension once the pieces fall into place.
Even Clive Owenís presence canít really help it al that much--he does a fine job as Miaís doting but slightly brooding father, but Purnell ends up being the biggest revelation as the daughter. On the verge of adolescence, sheís stuck between childlike vulnerability and a budding maturity, and, in an alternate universe, thereís perhaps a version of Intruders that explores the impact of fear and imagination as one confronts coming of age. I truly liked Fresnadilloís work on 28 Weeks Later, so this oneís a bit of a disappointment, but itís a nice attempt to echo the horror tinged fairy tales of Guillermo Del Toroís early career. Intruders came and went on the festival circuit without much of a peep last year, and Iíd all but forgotten about it until it popped up on DVD and Blu-ray a couple of weeks ago. Millenniumís standard-def disc is fine, offering a solid anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 surround track that sufficiently shrouds your room in ambient noise and thumping bass when the film ramps up. Special features are a bit light, as thereís just a short feature about the film, some behind-the-scenes stuff, and some other trailers. Well-dressed and well-intentioned, Intruders ultimately runs off in the wrong directions and ends up being just as hollow as the protagonistís face. Rent it!
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