The only thing scarier than a good horror movie is having to sit through a really bad one. Luckily, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo spares us the latter by leaving gore and guts for another filmmaker. Instead, for his new film Intruders, he relies on an ingenuity that his more experienced (and heavier financed) peers could take note of.
Setting itself apart very early on, we find out Intruders is the story of two families on two separate continents. Twelve-year-old English girl Mia (Ella Purnell) and 8-year-old Spanish boy Juan (Izan Corchero) share the same haunting vision of a boogyman who goes by the name of Hollow Face. Juan is used to bedtime stories from his mom and soon concocts his own about a faceless creature out to steal the faces and voices of children. It’s not long before Mia picks up the mantle of storyteller too and soon enough, both children are terrified of the faceless stranger who attempts to steal their faces to claim as his own, but can’t deny the urge to continue telling his story.
Although initially dismissing the kids’ fears, each parental unit takes drastic steps to help them get over a fear of what’s in the nearest closet and what’s after their kids’ respective faces. Juan’s mom (Plar Lopez de Ayala) even consults the Catholic Church, but finds that the young priest, Antonio (Daniel Bruhl), wants to take a more hands-on approach to treating Juan, leaving her to take matters into her own hands. Mia’s father John (Clive Owen) seems to have enough terror on his own plate after a near-fatal experience at his construction site which may be related to his daughter’s demon. Each parent has their own personal showdown with Hollow Face
as we find out how even the voiceless villain manages to cross time zones and why.
Leaning more towards Hitchcock and less towards Saw, Intruders uses it’s under 20 million dollar budget to rely on the most basic of all fears: what’s in the closet. Sure, special effects and 3D glasses could’ve made Hollow Face jump off the screen, but Fresnadillo had something else in mind. He wanted to build a story and not a franchise. The director chose to tap into the childlike fears of being taken in the middle of the night, which also coincides with a parents’ worst nightmare.
Clive Owen is only a year removed from the predator cautionary tale Trust, but his role as a father is still no less convincing. Whether it’s because he has two daughters of his own, because he’s a great actor, or both, Owen comes across as the doting dad who never seems to spend enough time with his little girl. Just as he kept the balance between the dramatic and the shmaltzy in Trust, his intensity doesn’t cross into ham territory as he fights to keep his Mia safe from the monster who seems to be one step ahead of him. His frustration is palpable when he finally confronts the demon, only to watch him get away as he aches for a round two that he may not be prepared for.
It’s so easy to identify child actors with tabloids and reality shows that you often forget the diamonds in the rough and the performances they give. Ella Purnell turns 16 in the Fall, but her performance of 13 year old Ella shows that she may be ready for greater things. Where adults are usually the focus in most thrillers, kids run the show in Intruders. They create the monsters that eventually the adults have to fight off, but they’re far from innocent bystanders. The UK native seems to have taken her direction well from how to show abject fright without saying a word to showing a sense of dread along with an initial childhood playfulness. Purnell has all the cuteness of her Disney brethren across the pond but with a lot more range.
The other pint-sized newcomer was Izan Corchero as Juan. He’s the initial focal point of Intruders and he draws you in instantly. He seems to be just as comfortable running onto a ledge to retrieve his cat as he is telling a priest where to stick it.
Taking a page from Psycho, Fresnadillo bravely creates a horror-thriller hybrid relying less on special effects and more on a quality script with unpredictable twists. It’s the first time the director didn’t add the hypenated “writer” credit and by his own admission, he truly thrived because of it. Tapping into personal experiences, he uses a creativity that may be overlooked by the Hunger Games crowd or those used to more gore, but it is at their own peril.