Film Review: Intruders

One more bummer supernatural thriller, all too easy to figure out and with an arty overlay that mitigates pulpy enjoyment.
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In Intruders, two families are seemingly menaced by a terrifying, faceless and lonely ghoul called Hollow Face, bent on ripping off children’s faces in order to wear them and therefore be loved. In Spain, little Juan (Izán Corchero) first conceives of this nightmare in a bedtime story he tells his mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala) that suddenly becomes horrifyingly real. In London, 12-year-old Mia (Ella Purnell) becomes haunted by the same spectre when she discovers a childishly scrawled story about it, hidden in a tree on her grandparents’ property and, traumatized, stops talking.

Both Luisa and Mia’s father John (Clive Owen) try to find support from others, but her priest, Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl), John’s wife Sue (Carice van Houten) and child psychologist Rachel (Kerry Fox) are unbelieving. Indeed, when it becomes apparent on videotape that John at one point is basically tussling with nothing although he believes it to be the dreaded Hollow Face, Social Services considers him a danger and removes him from Mia.

Intruders bears some resemblance to the recently released The Woman in Black in that it is torturously slow to get started and, after all that, ends too abruptly and unsatisfyingly. Although Hollow Face as conceived here is indeed a mysteriously swirling, effectively amorphous presence, at every point director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo favors deliberate, extremely logy obfuscation over logic, with the emphasis on psychological pain. The entire thing hinges on a big plot reveal Fresnadillo does his utmost to conceal: Are we looking at flashbacks or simultaneously happening stories? But it’s pretty easy to figure out and once that light goes on in the viewer’s head, you are left with a mere, big “So what?” In the predictably violent denouement, the director drops all subtlety and shows poor Mia engulfed with obviously CGI writhing snakes, which is just, well, cheesy.

Fresnadillo and his screenwriters haven’t enriched their characters sufficiently to make you truly care about what happens to them, the way Polanski could, as in Rosemary’s Baby, or Jack Clayton did in The Innocents, or even, God help us, William Friedkin in The Exorcist, so you watch it all at an emotional remove. All the women, in particular, are too sketchily drawn.

Under the circumstances, Owen, with those wounded baby blues of his, does manage to deliver some believably fraught humanity, and Purnell is very good and convincing, with her preternatural pre-Raphaelite beauty at least providing some visual efficacy in this otherwise drab enterprise.