SXSW Film Review – Intruders
It is a strange place to find yourself, on the opposite side from the majority with your feelings toward a film. That place where you either see something that nobody else does, or are bewildered by what people do see. We’ve done top 5s on overrated and underrated movies that discuss this very feeling. That was my experience at SXSW with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s latest film, Intruders. Upon discussing it with others afterward, it almost felt like I saw a different film than everyone else did.
The film is a little hard to describe, but Intruders follows two children from two different countries who are tormented each night by a creator known as “Hollowface.” John Farrow (Clive Owen), the father of one of these children, is swept into terror as he attempts to protect his daughter, while a priest, Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl), tries to uncover the mystery behind what is terrorizing the other child. As the story cuts between the two kids, the mystery of Hollowface unfolds.
I love a good horror film, and it has been a while since we’ve had someone create a character that captures our culture’s attention on the level of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, or Michael Myers. When I saw the trailers for Intruders, I was hopeful that the movie would at least give them a run for their money. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to put Hollowface into the class of those cinematic icons, I did enjoy the character and felt that it had more depth than most horror villains. The opening sequence of the movie that helps establish who Hollowface is is very unnerving and does an excellent job of setting up everything that comes.
This is the first feature to be released by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo since he took over for Danny Boyle on 28 Weeks Later. That film was modestly received in comparison to the beloved original 28 Days Later, and for that to have been his first attempt at an English language film must have been very challenging, given the expectations going in. Visually and creatively, Fresnadillo has firmly established himself as an artist of note, as even on his lower budget productions his films stand out—such as Intacto, in which he was able to make a story about luck suspenseful. Intruders does an excellent job of continuing that trend; it had me trying to imagine where the story would be going while also attempting to soak in the scenery, since it was so beautifully shot. The creativity and style of it make me intrigued as to what he might do with his next project, a remake of Highlander. It appears that Fresnadillo does his best work when he is working on his own projects, not taking over from other people.
I was surprised to find that despite the film being based on a story about his discovery of family secrets from his past, Fresnadillo wasn’t actually credited as a writer. Thematically I think the idea is fascinating, since we generally are far less suspicious of family members than strangers—it makes you question what is true, and shakes your foundation. The notions of what you really know are played with throughout the movie. Additionally, issues like trust, faith, and rationalization are explored as the characters search for a solution to their tormentor, all while ignoring the elephant in the room.
I have long been a fan of Clive Owen, even before he exploded with films like Children of Men. I’ve enjoyed him even in his maligned roles, like the title character of King Arthur. His performance here is hardly his best, but it does provide a steady guide throughout the story. It is nice to see his involvement in the project, as he has so much diversity in his career and always seems to be taking on new challenges, such as being in a horror film here. Beyond him, Fresnadillo did make the bold decision to have two child actors as major characters in the movie (Ella Purnell and Izán Corchero). While neither of them are great, both do good jobs and help make Hollowface feel terrifying, and that is really the most important thing in a movie like this.
As best I can tell, the problems other people had with the movie are with its story. Much like every horror film these days, it tries a little bit too hard to be clever, and has some twists towards the end. I didn’t mind them, though I thought they were a little heavy-handed, and I did think that the ending might have been a bit too easy. But I enjoyed the journey to get there. The film is sort of a mix between A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Orphanage, with shades of An American Haunting. If you are looking to be truly terrified, this probably isn’t your film, but if you like to be creeped out with more thoughtful horror, then give Intruders a shot.
Final Grade: B+