Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) has directed his first movie in five years with Intruders, a dark and unusual little film that never quite grows into its intriguing premise. It's difficult to summarize the plot of the film without giving anything away, and that's generally a good sign. Intruders isn't easily summed up or categorized. The movie skips through a few different genres - horror, mystery, suspense, drama - and it offers an unconventional story. I appreciate that. I just wish he'd done more with it.
Clive Owen plays John Farrow, a British husband, father and construction worker whose daughter Mia - wait...Mia Farrow? Really? At any rate, Mia is plagued by nightmares, until the faceless monster of her dreams appears all too real and invades their home. In Spain, a young boy named Juan is visited nightly by a similar faceless creature, while his mother struggles to understand his terror. Both Mia and Juan seem to have summoned Hollow Face, as they call him, through their own imaginative writings. But who is Hollow Face, and how is he connected to these two children?
The film is solidly scary, with an unsettling atmosphere hard-earned by Fresnadillo through inventive use of shadow and slow-building but undeniable tension. It's also beautifully shot; much like 28 Weeks Later, Fresnadillo tempers the darkness with expansive shots of stunning countryside. Visually and atmospherically, Intruders is spot on.
And the performances are good too: Owen's always great and continues to be so here as a father tormented with concern for his daughter. Ella Purnell, who made her debut in Never Let Me Go, is striking as Mia. With those giant eyes, perfect features and her composed presence, I have a feeling she's going to be everywhere soon. Izán Corchero and Pilar López de Ayala both resonate strongly as Juan and his mother. The only performance that didn't stick the landing for me is Carice van Houten as Mia's mother, Susanna. She has a thankless role as the slightly shrewish mother excluded by the close bond shared between John and Mia, but van Houten never makes Susanna sympathetic. Susanna's concerns are valid, but van Houten doesn't play them that way. She does offer some jarring, random nudity that couldn't be more out of place in the otherwise subtle film. I have no problem with nudity in movies - I'm for it! - but the scene defines gratuitous.
The ending will surprise few, but it's a well-crafted journey, and Intruders never spells anything out for the viewer. I liked the movie, but I doubt it will exhibit any staying power. Intruders won't last, and that's because Fresnadillo didn't take the opportunity to say anything deeper with the film. He pulled off a few clever tricks, and that can be entertaining, but he missed out on a chance to say something significant about the power of imagination or the oppressive influence a girl's father than have on her own outlook when all she wants to do is impress him. I could think of a half dozen things that Intruders almost says, but the film doesn't take the time to actually say any of them.