Millennium Entertainment // 2011 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 20th, 2012
The nightmare is real.
Early in the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud helped give a name to a certain kind of dread or fear that many of us experience. He called it the "uncanny." In the original German the word meant, literally, "unhomey" -- that which is not like our homes. What sets Freud's definition apart, however, is that he is not simply saying we're afraid of what isn't familiar; that's a notion old as time. Instead, Freud posited that the uncanny frightened because it was simultaneously familiar and yet strange. We have the feeling like we should know it, but we don't. The corpse is the classic example. Yes, it's the body of someone we knew (making it familiar) but they're not alive (which makes it strange). Children are also often sources of the uncanny, largely because they are like us (they look human), but they haven't internalized all the behaviors we expect from the adults that most of us spend our time with. Horror movies love to exploit this fact, from Children of the Corn to The Ring, but it can be a mixed blessing. Though scary children are undoubtedly scary, if their performances aren't spot-on, they can go from scary to silly quicker than just about anything. Intruders doesn't rely so much on children being scary, but it does ask a lot of its child actors. Luckily, the film manages to deliver a solid mystery with enough horrific elements tied to childhood to satisfy some genre fans.
A little boy in Spain tells his mother the story of Hollowface, a figure who has no face of his own, so he sneaks into your room at night to steal your face. His mother worries about the vivid dreams that feed this story, but she doesn't know what to do. Meanwhile, in England, a little girl is telling the same story, and is seemingly haunted by the same figure. Her father (Clive Owen) is also unsure what to do when strange things start to happen.
Intruders helped me realize something: I don't really like it when films mix mystery and horror. For me, they're two different kinds of film. Most of the time, if I'm engaged with a mystery, it's a rational, thoughtful process. In contrast, horror tends to be visceral, irrational. The one tends to distract me from the other. I mention this because The Intruders worked despite this generic mixing. The overall mystery -- What does the little boy in Spain have to do with a little girl in England and how does Hollowface fit in? -- is handled well on a macro level, while the horror tends to come in micro-level bursts. The pacing of the story was so well-done that the moments of horror didn't pull me out of the mystery game, and the atmosphere of the mystery was handled well enough for the horror to not seem out of place.
Talking about much of the rest of the film without spoiling things is tough. I can say that Intruders lives and dies by its atmosphere. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo returns from a break after directing 28 Days Later with another flick that mixes horrific moments with a constant sense of dread. Though I wouldn't go as far as the DVD box does and call him "visionary," Fresnadillo knows how to move the camera for maximum tension when Hollowface makes his appearances.
The other thing I can say about the flick is that the acting is solid. These kinds of films are often held together by the cast, who have to appear appropriately mystified and horrified for us. Clive Owen is obviously the star attraction here, and he's his usual excellent self, but the surprising performances come from the children. They're both believable as scared young people, and it's easy to sympathize with their plight.
Finally, this is a solid DVD release of a film that was only released to thirty-three theaters for a total of less than a 100 grand in box office receipts. The 2.35:1 anamorphic spends a lot of time on darker scenes, and black levels are generally dark and stable. Colors are otherwise well-saturated, and detail isn't marred by heavy handed digital compression. The 5.1 surround track does fine handling the English and Spanish dialogue, and everything is well-balanced. Both English and Spanish subtitles are also included for the non-bilingual viewership.
Extras start with a pair of featurettes. The first is an 8-minute EPK style documentary, and the second is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look. Both feature footage from the film and interviews with those involved. The other extra is a digital copy of the film. Other DVD studios should take note: this is how you handle digital copies. If you want a digital copy of Intruders, you simply stick the disc into a computer, and use your favorite file manager to navigate to the disk. There, waiting for you, is a video file that you can then copy into iTunes, or put directly onto a tablet. There's no website to go to, no twenty-digit code to enter in. It's simple, painless, and should become the industry standard for these sorts of things.
Atmosphere isn't everything. Those without the patience to see how the two stories are going to connect will likely be bored by the halfway mark, if not sooner. On the flip side, there are going to be those who guess early what the film's twists are, and there's little attempt to hide them or come up with twists we've never seen before. Also, even though I enjoyed Intruders, much like 28 Days Later, it's not a classic film. In a genre glutted with mediocre scares, it's a bit above the rest, but it's unlikely to be a film people are talking about years from now.
Intruders requires lowered expectations. As a somewhat trite mystery/horror hybrid, the film delivers solid performances and visual style on the back of a so-so retread of some familiar horror stories. The disc is probably best experienced as a rental for those not obsessed with Clive Owen.
You might not want to let Intruders in, but it's not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy