Serious-minded and slow-moving suspense stories like this one live or die by their endings, which have to be worth what feels like a very long wait. Unfortunately, the payoff here is nearly as unsatisfying as the terrible twist in this month’s earlier Silent House.
Intruders also plays more like a weak bid for a direct-to-DVD horror franchise than a worthwhile standalone story. There are nods to far better films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Exorcist, but the project never lives up to the promise of the talent involved.
Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, whose 2007 zombie thriller 28 Weeks Later was a rare example of a stylish sequel that lived up to the quality of its predecessor (28 Days Later), lets Intruders play out with more tedium than tension. Clive Owen seems bored. Dutch actress Carice van Houten (Valkyrie, Black Book, TV’s Game of Thrones) has little to do in her “concerned mom” role, although she does contribute a gratuitous nude scene.
The boogeyman here is Hollow Face, a literally faceless hoodie-wearing home invader whose head is only partially glimpsed through most of the movie. He wants to steal the faces of children by swiping his gloved hand over their features. Hollow Face is the subject of tales concocted by Madrid eight-year-old Juan (Izán Corchero) and London 12-year-old Mia (Ella Purnell), whose separate stories about being terrorized by him are intercut with each other.
(Oddly, the Mia character’s last name is Farrow. If that’s because this flick aspires to be a classy psychological scarefest like Mia Farrow’s Rosemary’s Baby, it comes up quite a bit short of that goal.)
Mia’s father John Farrow (Owen) is a construction worker with strange ideas on child psychology. When Mia first worries that Hollow Face has come to life and is lurking in the shadows of her bedroom, dad puts together a scarecrow-style version of the monster. Then he douses the thing with lighter fluid and sets it ablaze in their yard. One imagines worried neighbors hurriedly putting “for sale” signs in front of their houses the next morning.
The Madrid scenes are entirely in Spanish with subtitles. Juan’s frantic mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala) tries enlisting handsome Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl) to help dispel her son’s Hollow Face-related fears. In one of the movie’s few breaks with tradition, an older priest (Héctor Alterio) rejects Antonio’s request for a “placebo” ritual, advising that the family needs a psychiatrist instead.
Although most of the movie relies on shadows and sound effects instead of elaborate visuals, Hollow Face’s rooty underground fantasy lair is appropriately creepy when we finally get a brief look at it. The rest of the movie relies on blown-out light bulbs and dripping ceiling stains.
No spoilers here, but the screenplay’s supposed-to-be-shocking ending simply makes no sense. The only way it can work is if we believe a character has withheld crucially important information about his past for no reason, or has one hell of a mental block, or simply forgot something so monumental it should have been unforgettable.
Moody cinematography, a respectable cast and grim ambiance can’t compensate for a story this hollow.
[Rating: 1.5 stars]
Intruders is released on Friday March 30, 2012