Review: INTRUDERS (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)

Intruders is a rare little bird. It's a 'big-budget' horror flick directed by someone who dares to put his own style forward. It's unlike the poor reboots that plague the American horror market, but it certainly has the dollars to venture where usually only those films are allowed to go. The result is a special breed of European film making, one that won't appeal to all genre fans but serves as an excellent reminder of Fresnadillo's talent.

Fresnadillo (Intacto, 28 Weeks Later) isn't the most productive director. With only three films in 10 years time it will take a while before he builds up a respectable oeuvre. This abundance of time allows him to really polish his films though. Above anything else, Intruders is a very accomplished film, a film where each scene, even each frame seems well-considered and thought-through. A quality rarely seen in horror films.

Intruders is quite the international project. A Spanish director featuring German, Dutch, Spanish and British actors and set in both London and Spain (not sure about the city there). The film itself is a typical Spanish horror affair though, with supernatural experiences used as an extension of dramatic motivators. There are no true evil powers here, just human drama that's visualized in a horror context.

The film follows two seemingly unrelated families. The first one is located in Spain, where a little boy is haunted by a mysterious faceless figure (named Hollow Face). The creature is after the boy's face and haunts him at night, trying to separate him from his mother's protection. Then there is a London-based family, whose little girl is haunted by the exact same figure after she finds a wooden box containing the legend of Hollow Face buried inside a tree.

Visually speaking Intruders is a real looker. Every frame is just deliciously stylized. Color and lighting in particular are superb. Even though the film is quite dark in places, the right bits and pieces are highlighted to raise the tension to appropriate levels. The camera work can be a little too shaky during the action scenes, but those are just rare moments in an otherwise exquisitely stylized film.

The soundtrack is pretty typical for Spanish films (a bit too epic and overdone at times) but at the same time Fresnadillo keeps it functional and to the point. It wouldn't have hurt to remove some musical cues left and right, but when it matters the soundtrack does deliver, increasing tension and setting a solid atmosphere for the horror to thrive in. It's not a very remarkable or recognizable score, but it certainly does the job.

As for performances, some strange choices were made during the casting of certain actors. The Spanish actors are fine and so is Clive Owen (which is a rarity, but he actually makes his character work here). But why anyone would like to cast Daniel Bruhl as a Spanish preacher, or Carice van Houten as the wife of Owen is completely beyond me. Bruhl's Spanish is fine but he just doesn't really fit the character, van Houten's English is atrocious, and even though she's supposed to be playing a Dutch woman in London (at least, that's why I hope) there really is no visible motivation for this choice. I guess it gives the film a more international (and cross-European) image, but it doesn't help the quality of the film itself.

Fresnadillo does little to challenge genre clichés. Intruders is a pretty straight-forward horror film, especially for people who are familiar with the Spanish take on horror productions. The film is quite slow, heavily stylized and borders more on the fantastical and supernatural than on true horror motives. These can be serious hurdles for people expecting anything more than a genre film, but apart from that Fresnadillo does everything right and people knowing what to expect can be assured of getting a quality horror production.

A very stylish affair, the film takes its time to explore its setting, slowly working up to an impressive finale. There are no great twists or mind-blowing revelations, instead you should relish the journey towards them. I wish more big budget horror film directors would take a cue from Fresnadillo. Instead of producing cheap Hollywood shlock for the masses, there is more to the genre and a few extra dollars do come in handy once in a while. Sadly reception of the film has been quite mediocre so far, I can only contest public opinion and say this film deserves much better.
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