SXSW 2012: Real Potential is Lost Entirely in Clive Owen's 'Intruders'
by Jeremy Kirk
March 15, 2012
Classic monster stories have creatures tormenting children. Children are often the protagonist unless there's an adult around to really take charge of a situation. Monsters haunting children is comfortable to a story. It's easy. At least, it feels easy with Intruders, the new film from Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. But Fresnadillo, who knows intensity and haunting atmospheres, has the whole thing on auto-pilot. Intruders is a film that desperately yearns to find its rhythm, which it never does, all the while we're revving up for the inevitable information dump. Info dumps are easier than monsters scaring children, now that I think about it.
The film bounces between two stories, one about a boy, the other about a girl. The boy, played by Izán Corchero lives in Spain with his mother, played by Pilar López de Ayala. Actors Clive Owen and Ella Purnell are the father and daughter on the other side of the story. In both, the children find themselves tormented by a dark creature, a hooded figure named Hollowface who seems to thrive on their imagination and seeks to steal a face for his own. As each of these stories progress and Hollowface's attacks become more pointed and increasingly dangerous, father and mother take every action to ensure the safety of their own child.
Intruders is one of those unfortunate creatures whose conception is far more interesting and inventive than the execution. Written by Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques, the story kicks in well from the top. An opening attack from Hollowface on the young boy sets the tone. The tone has atmosphere. It's rich and slick and looks like it could be something of a mainstream film until the subtitles kick in. Fresnadillo has a feel for atmosphere, whether it's a rabid city like 28 Weeks Later or the pointed forks in the road of Intacto. Sadly, once Hollowface appears, it's downhill from there.
Again, the concept it spot on. Hollowface is a classic, hooded figure who skulks and has a penchant for beach-front chess. Here, though, the figure is a tank as if the Incredible Hulk were under that robe, and, more importantly, he's fully CG. The inconsistency in Hollowface's look throughout Intruders is distracting and unjustifiable. In the father/daughter story, the one starring the name, Hollowface is practical for the most part. But those little flinches of CG show up now and again, and it's noticeable. Nothing takes you out of an atmosphere faster than seeing CG raindrops on a CG creature with CG light reflecting off its CG coat. Make all of that practical, and the atmosphere not only holds, it terrifies you. The usage of computer effects is understandable for the moments with the boy - that little information dump never fails, does it? Here it ties the two stories together and explains their connection, predictable as it is. Those moments are understandable. They're just unfortunate.
As bad as the CG is, Intruders' real issue is in the pacing. Fresnadillo never seems to want to pull the trigger on anything. Owen doesn't help. He's as much a presence in the film as the living room lamp. Not bad but golf clap acceptable. From the opening moment, which would have played amazingly had the CG not cut attention short, the film begins a long trek downward into tedium. The big reveal at the end is supposed to make you understand the psychology of it all. It just makes you understand the credits are coming, and you can leave. Intruders is one of those childhood monster stories your mom kept on the second from the top shelf. In the corner. It wasn't hidden, because it was too scary. It was hidden, because it didn't do anything every other book in the case wasn't already doing. They did it earlier. Most of them did it better.
Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 4 out of 10