At The Picture Show
In the still of the night...
The promise of 'Intruders' is undone by its own revelations
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Screenplay: Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques
Starring: Clive Owen, Ella Purnell, Carice van Houten, Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Izán Corchero,
Kerry Fox and Daniel Brühl
Rated R / 1 hour, 40 minutes
Opened in limited release March 30, 2012
(out of four)
Let's start with what I did like about Intruders. It at least has a concept - an idea it tries (with
intermittent success) to flesh out into a substantial backdrop for a horror film. It isn't content to
attach itself too closely to one archetype, or bombard us with things that go boom around every
Instead, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto, 28 Weeks Later) goes for something more
ambitious, using a dual narrative and borderline surreal visuals to uncover a story fraught with
But now we're left with what I didn't like about Intruders, and which in fact largely undoes the
positives I just mentioned. The film falls right into the trap of turning a metaphorical story into a
literal one, giving us explanations we don't need and that Fresnadillo himself doesn't even seem
fully committed to. The revelations feel forced upon us.
Aside from that, there are the usual plot cheats and loopholes, but I was willing to forgive all of
that if the film had kept up with its early promise.
Intruders shifts back and forth between two mimicking stories. Both involve the relationship
between a parent and child - a child threatened by the same shadowy, indecipherable being, and
a parent trying desperately to protect.
There is a crucial suggestion that the intruder in question is nothing but the product of a child's
imagination. The film opens with a young boy, Juan (Izán Corchero), putting the finishing
touches on a scary story he's written - probably to entertain his mother as much as himself.
Wouldn't you know it, that story - at least in abstract form - begins to come to life. That night, a
mysterious figure appears outside, climbing up the fire escape and onto the ledge. He glides
through an open window and into Juan and his mother's small apartment. And he attacks.
Though he is eventually driven away, we know just from
hearing Juan's story that this being - who we come to know as "Hollowface" - will just keep
coming back until he's consumed Juan's entire body and soul.
Cut to an English suburb, where Mia (Ella Purnell, so good as the young Keira Knightley in
Never Let Me Go) is just about to celebrate her 12th birthday. While fooling around on a tree in
the backyard, she happens upon an old wooden box hidden inside the bark. Inside the box is an
old, folded-up piece of paper. The paper contains the story we've just heard - the sinister
exploits of "Hollowface."
Mia seems to take the story to heart, both intrigued by its mystery and darkness and repelled by
the feeling of unease that has persisted since the moment she first unraveled that scrap of paper.
Soon enough, she, too, begins to sense that someone, or something, is watching her. Some
faceless creature, enshrouded in a robe and hood, watching her from outside the window - or
scarier yet, inside the bedroom closet.
What Intruders does effectively is examine the potent visceral effect that childhood stories can
have. And then it takes that idea and transforms it into something almost philosophical about
parents and children, and about loss. Mia shares a special kinship with her father, John (Clive
Owen), who on two occasions fights off attacks from Hollowface - who, as it turns out, no one
but Mia and John ever get a chance to see. By the time anyone else gets there, he's always gone,
disappeared into the darkness of the night.
The image of this Hollowface is one of the film's best assets. It doesn't move so much as it floats
through space - slowly, deliberately - feeling at once eerily ghostlike and physically
overpowering. It's something in between a monster and an apparition.
It is not difficult to decipher the narrative trick that's being played - in fact, I'm not even sure
it's a trick at all. It's a pretty obvious twist. In any case, when
Intruders gets into Reveal Mode - as is so often the case - that's when things start to crumble.
The film is forced to start explaining itself, and instead of following through on its more abstract
instincts, it takes a disappointingly literal approach to its resolution. The one thing ghost stories
don't need is to be brought back down to earth.
Read more by Chris Bellamy