Intruders (2012)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/04/12 14:14:00

"Good things come to those who wait, but don't make us wait too long!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It's hard to believe that "Intruders" is just Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's third feature film; the past decade-plus has been pretty good for Spanish genre filmmakers whether working in their native tongue or English, and Fresnadillo's 2001 film "Intacto" was creative and atmospheric. And yet, since then he's only directed "28 Weeks Later" before this Spanish/English hybrid. It's puzzling, because he makes good, creepy movies, even if his latest takes a while to get going.

Although their parents dutifully inform them that there are no such things as monsters, two children - Juan (Izán Corchero) in Madrid and Mia (Ella Purnell) in the London suburbs - are about to learn different. A wandering cat leads each of them to encounters with "Hollowface", a formless creature that attempts to steal the faces of children. While Juan's mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala) turns to handsome young priest Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl) for help, Mia's working-class father John (Clive Owen) tries to take matters into his own hands, even as her mother Susanna (Carice van Houten) finds herself terrified.

Fresnadillo doesn't mind taking his time to set a movie up; even a sequel like 28 Weeks Later gives the audience a little time to let its concept sink in. That's a double-edged sword here; while the deliberate opening gives the film plenty of time to build atmosphere, introduce storytelling as an important factor in how Hollowface takes shape and becomes a threat, and establish strong parent-child relationships, the split between England and Spain means that everything is, to a certain extent, being done twice, and that does tend to make things seem slower than they actually are. Fresnadillo and screenwriters Nicolás Casariego & Jaime Marquesl also introduce a (literal) mystery box very early on but seem to ignore it for far too long, perhaps because there just aren't enough layers of mystery to it to peel them away slowly.

Thankfully, just as the audience is starting to get aggravated, all that setup starts paying off. The plot twists aren't especially difficult to figure out, especially in retrospect, but that's okay, because it makes for a good story even without the jolt. And Fresnadillo can deliver jolts with the best of them; the appearances of Hollowface are quality scares and action scenes, and some of the things are nifty visually - what looks like a tracking shot through an impressively detailed model of the street, and a camera angle that unsettles the audience by suggesting something horrible. Hollowface is a simply-designed but effective monster, and even works when the story goes in unexpected directions. And while Intruders is not a typical horror movie, the filmmakers are able to make a movie that can handle going off in directions a conventional horror movie might not go without sacrificing all of its jump moments.

The cast does a nice job holding up their end of the bargain; with things split between the two locations, most get a little less screen time than they might otherwise have, but they make up for it by showing strong, tight-knit relationships. The script requires the audience to believe in an extraordinary close relationship between John and Mia, and that's possible in large part because of how natural Clive Owen and Ella Purnell are in their scenes together. That's just as true with Pilar López de Ayala and Izán Corchero as Luisa and Juan. Daniel Brühl and Carice van Houten do a good job in fleshing the relationships out.

I'm curious at how well "Intruders" holds up on a second viewing - though it doesn't live or die by the twist, I'm curious to see how well everything holds together. I also hope it's not another five years before Juan Carlos Fresnadillo makes another movie - good things come to those who wait, but you can make a person wait too long.

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