Friday, March 30, 2012

New to the Spanish scare-movie roster: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's INTRUDERS

It should be no secret to film buffs by now how Spain has pretty much taken over the scary-movie business by combining ingredients in a manner not found elsewhere: beauty, passion, art, as well as darkness, pain, family and history. Pan's Labyrinth was a chief example, followed by The Orphanage, while the works of Guillem Morales -- Julia's Eyes and The Uninvited Guest -- are under-seen standouts of the genre.  Now comes INTRUDERS, from short-film/Oscar-nominated director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (shown below, of Intacto and 28 Weeks Later), which, if it does not reach the heights of the best Spanish scares, does a creditable enough job to rate a viewing for genre aficionados.

Two children -- a young boy, Juan (Izán Corchero, below, left), and a teenage girl, Mia (Ella Purnell) -- in Spain and England are having awfully realistic night-mares involving a kind of faceless man with a body that is frighteningly supple and agile. Their parents (Pilar López de Ayala, below, right, plays Juan's mom, while stalwart Clive Owen is Mia's dad) are having a hell of a time with the kids; Owens appears to also see the weird intruder, though Juan's mom, it seems, does not.

Priests (Daniel Brühl, below, and Héctor Alterio) are brought in for the boy (exorcisms, you know) and a therapist for the girl (England's not a Catholic country anymore), and for a time we are handed the currently in-vogue folie à deux medical theory (shades of the recent Apart!). But nothing finally helps -- until the movie-maker lets loose a surprise, uniting the characters and their stories, and giving the movie the charge it needs to fully engage us and finally carry itself home.

Fresnadillo, with his special-effects people and a nice sense of pacing, does good work building suspense and scares, and his lead actors (the kids, Owens and de Ayala) are believable enough and help draw us in.

But the story simply has too many characters, played by far too good a group of well-known international actors (in addition to those already mentioned, there is Kerry Fox, above, right, essaying the psychologist and Carice van Houten, above, center, as Mia's mother). These people -- actors and their characters -- are given too little to do. They don't much engage us; they just take up time and space.

Even the main characters are seen almost solely in their relationship to Hollowface, the movie's "monster." They, too, could use some fleshing out. We do see Mia's dad on the job in a couple of scenes, one of which, again, has to do with Hollowface -- in a way that comes clear only after the fact. Intruders is very good at making its connections subtly, working us a bit harder than usual, and then paying off by the finale.

What unites the two stories -- everything from cats and storytelling itself to parenting and sex -- helps the movie work as well as it does. Unlike many of its peers in this genre, it opts finally for harmony over anarchy and darkness, and because of this (plus the fact that there is no way the film will be a box-office smash), it will spawn no sequel. It shouldn't. The ending, its sense of completion, is just right.

Intruders, 100 minutes from Millennium Entertainment, opens today, March 30, in New York City at the AMC Empire 25 and the Village Theater VII.  It is also playing at a number of other cities across the country (L.A., San Francisco, Phoenix, to name a few). To find one near you, click here, enter your zip code and see what happens....

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