April 29, 2012

Intruders (2011)

After a career making TV commercials, Spaniard director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo produced in 1996 the short film "Esposados", debut that earned him multiple international awards, including an Academy Award for Best Short Film. Nevertheless, despite this overnight fame, it took him six more years to make his feature length debut, "Intacto", film that once again won several awards, amongst them a Goya for Best New Director. This fame didn't go unnoticed, and so in 2006 Fresnadillo was hired by British filmmaker Danny Boyle to direct "28 Weeks Later", sequel to Boyle's own post-apocalyptic horror film "28 Days Later...". This success established Fresnadillo as a competent genre director with a great skill to create haunting atmospheres. In 2011, Fresnadillo returned to the United Kingdom to make "Intruders", a Spanish production that has that style so characteristic of Spanish Horror.

"Intruders" tells two parallel stories, the first one takes place in Spain, in which little Juan (Izán Corchero) lives terrified by Hollowface, a mysterious figure that appears in his room. Hollowface doesn't have a face, and by night it enters the apartment where Juan lives in order to steal his face. Juan lives alone with his mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala), whom is completely desperate and afraid since she doesn't know how to help her child. Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl),a local priest, gets interested in the case and tries to find out what's trying to posses the kid. Meanwhilem in Lodond, Mia (Ella Purnell) is a 12 years old girl who lives a normal life with her parents John and Susanna Farrow (Clive Owen and Carice van Houten respectively). On her birthday she finds a box with a spell that summons Hollowface, whom will try to steal her face. Both kids will fight their own monster, each in their own way.

The screenplay, by Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques tells a story of supernatural horror and fantasy that presents a monster, Hollowface, that recalls the more primal fears. A monster without face, that stands like a Boogeyman stalking in the dark of the room, in the closet, under the bed, among the shadows. The main characters, both children under 12 years old, face different problems but both are psychologically linked to the fear this monster represents. Juan lives alone with his mother, and knows too well the abandonment and loneliness, while at the same time is owner of a great imagination. Mia lives happily with her parents, but she's facing adolescence, finding herself in a point in which she wants desperately to grow up, but this desire affects her close bonding with her father, who still sees her as a child. Both stories are linked with a risky but functional twist, making it an interesting plot, though not without its fair share of problems.

In "Intruders", Fresnadillo shows a solid work of direction, with a well defined visual style and an appropriate handling of suspense, resulting in several sequences of great quality. With the aid of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Fresnadillo creates a different atmosphere for each story: a cold and desolate one for Juan, and a warm though no less creepy for Mia. Chediak's work is remarkable, and he adapts it to that quite Spanish style of atmospheric horror dramas (in the style of "El Orfanato" of Balaguero's cinema), though of course, with Frasnadillo's personal trademarks, which involve a heavy use of steady came that brings an interesting dynamic, in spire of being at times a bit annoying. Perhaps the greatest virtue of "Intruders" is its total lack of pretensions, as director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo makes a story of fantastic horror that moves way from modern visceral shock and gets closer to the atmosphere of a scary tale for before sleeping.

The acting is perhaps the strongest point in "Intruders" starting with the young Ella Purnell, whom as Mia, delivers a remarkable work as a teenager, not exactly a girl anymore, but still not a woman, but whom is troubled as she faces a fear that could be considered childish: fear of the dark. Purnell acts with great naturalness, making a powerful performance that easily steals the film. While definitely not on the same level, the work of young Izán Corchero is also of great quality, though it's worth to point out that in his tale the dramatic weight is on Pilar López de Ayala, who plays his mother. Pilar López gives a solid work, making a restrained, though realist portrait of her paranoid character. On the British side, Clive Owen is effective in his role of overprotective father, though at times Carice van Houten (as Mia's distant mother) is the one who makes a more interesting performance.

While acting is very good, "Intruders" has a somewhat uneven character development, as if suffers from having a quite interesting premise that has not been developed. Certainly, writers Casariego and Marques have developed a fascinating story prone to multiple readings. However, the way the plot has been built is deficient, leaving multiple loose ends forgotten by the time the movie finishes. Just to mention the most obvious one, while the subplot of Father Antonio opens several interesting options, the whole affair is simply left aside without even trying a greater development for the character, leaving him as a mere footnote in the main storyline. The same happens with the trauma that John Farrow experiences at his job, and some other plot holes as well, resulting in a movie that at times feels incomplete. While "Intruders" shows a great quality in its execution, details like those prevent the satisfaction from solving mystery to be complete.

Despite those details, "Intruders" manages to be an entertaining fable of horror in a tone reminiscent to films like Guillermo Del Toro's "El Espinazo del Diablo". Closer to psychological horror to the more visceral one, "Intruders" offers an interesting spin to the fear of the dark. In fact, given the thematics it explores regarding childhood fears, it's odd that the film got an "R" rating in the United States, probably due to the innocent nude scene of Carice Van Houten (in United Kingdom for example, this only meant a more appropriate "15" rating). Anyways, perhaps "Intruders" is a minor work in Fresnadillo's career, but it's at least entertaining.

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 in April the 19th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

No comments: