Intruders does a lot of things exceptionally well, which makes it all the more frustrating when the movie drops the ball during crucial moments. This is a handsomely-crafted, well-acted, emotionally absorbing horror film with an unnervingly unique villain and an interesting structural idea, but dammit, it doesn't deliver during the moments that really count. It's more exasperating than a lot of bad horror films, because it's just good enough to convince you that it's going to deliver on its potential.
The film is directed by Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who sets one half of the film in Spain and the other half in England. The Spanish portion of the film tells the story of Juan (Izan Corchero, Audacia), a young boy who has a number of strange encounters with a horrible, faceless creature known only as Hollowface. The creature only appears at night, and attempts to attack Juan while his mother (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, The Bridge of San Luis Rey) is asleep. Hollowface's plan is sinister, but rooted in sadness: he plans to steal Juan's face, hoping that the addition of adorable facial features will make people love him.
The British portion of the story spotlights Mia (Ella Purnell, Maleficent), a young girl facing attacks from the same mysterious figure. Mia's father (Clive Owen, Closer) witnesses Hollowface's first attack, and devotes himself to finding a way to protect his daughter. Unfortunately, Mia's mother (Carice Van Houten, Game of Thrones) didn't see anything, and she begins to wonder if her husband and daughter are suffering from some sort of delusion.
The big question throughout Intruders is whether or not Hollowface is real. At one point, he steals the mouth of one character, leaving that character unable to speak. When the victim looks in the mirror, they see nothing but a blank patch of skin on the bottom half of their face. However, when other people see the victim, they see a perfectly ordinary face and assume that the victim's inability to talk is rooted in some sort of psychological disorder. If Hollowface is real, why isn't anyone able to find tangible evidence of his existence? If he's merely imagined, how is it possible that multiple people – Juan, Mia and Mia's father – all claim to have seen him?
The answer is a satisfying one, but the delivery of that answer is not. After a effectively spine-tingling reveal, the closing stretch of the movie devotes itself to explaining and explaining and explaining in the most awkward manner possible, trampling all over dramatic moments with clumsy exposition and needless clarification. This continues until the credits roll. It may inspire flashbacks to the clunky conclusion of the brilliant Psycho, when the psychiatrist helpfully explained everything we had seen. Unfortunately, the effect is far more destructive in this case, as the explanations are trampling over the climax instead of merely filling out an unnecessary coda.
Not that the rest of Intruders is on par with Hitchcock, mind you. The characters tend to be thinly written, which is a disappointment given the talent folks like Van Houten and Daniel Bruhl (playing a skeptical priest in the Spanish-language portion of the film) have to offer. Owen gets the film's only genuinely complicated character, and while he does a reasonably good job of selling paternal distress, some of the film's later revelations will likely cause many to feel that he is badly miscast.
Still, it's clear that Fresnadillo is a good director making some bad decisions rather than just another horror movie hack. His 28 Weeks Later is one of the more underrated horror sequels of recent years (superior to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, in my mind), and here he provides both an impressive level of technical polish and some genuinely unsettling reminders of just how unreliable the human mind can be. It's a pity he wasn't able to find a better framework for his smart ideas, and that he ultimately doesn't trust his audience to recognize those ideas on their own.
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Year: 2012