A little boy in Madrid is plagued by nightmares of a faceless creature that is trying to snatch him. Meanwhile, over in London, a young girl starts to experience exactly the same visions...
The success of the surge of Spanish-made chillers that began in 2001 with The Others no doubt persuaded Universal to take a punt on this psychological puzzle-movie from Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, director of the visceral and effective 28 Weeks Later. Intruders, though, doesn’t quite fit alongside the likes of The Orphanage, Hierra or even Julia’s Eyes: though it is rich in atmosphere and shadowy detail, Fresnadillo’s film lacks the commercial edge that the bulk of those films have. Dispensing with its supernatural trappings in the last reel, it plays out more as a heightened family drama than a horror film, ending on an atypically emphatic note of closure and conciliation.
Leaving aside its twists and turns, and the faceless phantom that pursues two terrified children, Intruders is a film about parents and parental responsibility. It may be this that attracted Clive Owen to the project; after the silly, pay-the-rent pulp of Killer Elite, Intruders even seems rather dignified, despite its genre roots. Indeed, he brings soft-hearted gravitas to the role of John Farrow, a busy construction worker who buys his daughter a teddy bear for her birthday, unaware that while he’s away on business, she’s growing up fast. Over in Madrid, a single mother (Pilar López de Ayala) is learning, too, that her boy is becoming too old for her to protect in the ways she used to.
Significantly, this is where the film works best. Before 28 Weeks Later in 2007, Fresnadillo made his debut in 2001 with Intacto, a film in which fate was a saleable commodity, and Intruders cleaves more to poetic themes of destiny than to the standard horror-flick formula. The various appearances of ‘Hollowface’ — a thick CG soup of tendrils and dank, dripping water — seem more surreal than scary, and it’s worth noting that the film’s most successful moments of suspense occur in the ‘real’ world, especially a Hitchcockian scene in which Farrow, high above the London skyline, grabs the hand of a co-worker who has slipped and now dangles precariously in his grasp.
The film’s box-office prospects are anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say that the horror crowd will find its terrors tame, while mainstream audiences may be put off by a title that suggests something more brutal than it actually is. As ever in Spanish horror, the genre is just a smokescreen to conceal a thoughtful and sensitive meditation on a country still smarting from the aftershocks of civil war and a dictatorship that suffocated it for 40 years. Superficially, Intruders promises to be a B movie about monsters, but deep down it is about buried secrets and, rather like Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, the way the skeleton in the closet sometimes just won’t stay put.
Though short on shocks and mild in horror terms, Fresnadillos fantasy has a lot of heart and sincerity in equal measure.