I feel pretty conflicted about Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Intruders. On the one hand I recognize that the director is trying to play with the horror genre a bit and take a more psychological and intellectual approach to what starts off as a fairly conventional ghost story. The thing is that I’m not entirely convinced that the experiment works, but I am entirely convinced that it’s not scary. I admire the attempt to create something different, but no matter how hard I tried and could never fully enjoy the movie. I guess you could call it a failed experiment and that’s a shame because it’s only the third film in Frenadillo’s 10 year career (after Intacto and 28 Weeks Later) and I desperately hoped that Intruders would build on the promise of his previous movies. Instead, I got a noble failure and will probably now have to wait another four years or so until he releases another movie and hopefully sets things right. Sigh…whatcha gonna do? Hit the jump for all the disappointing details.
The film tells two parallel horror tales that eventually dovetail together in a “ohhh, I get it now” moment. The first story takes place years ago in Spain where a young boy is haunted by a mysterious hooded ghost wherever he goes and his desperate mother turns to the church for help. The second story is set in contemporary England where Clive Owen’s daughter is visited by the same ghost and his response is to send her to a psychiatrist. Pretty simple stuff combing quiet character moments, ooga booga ghost scares, and a nice subtle comparison between religion and science’s response to hauntings. It all builds to a twist ending that transforms the movie from a ghost story into a psychological horror movie along the lines of Jacob’s Ladder. Unfortunately Fresnadilo’s version doesn’t work nearly as well.
It’s easy to complain about horror movies for being too simplistic and beholden to worn out genre conventions. The only thing is the reason that’s true is that the conventions work. Meddle around with the established form too much and it starts to fall apart. In Intruders, Frenadillo is ultimately a victim of his own ambitions. He tries so hard to turn the spookhouse material into something intellectually resonant that he sucks most of the fun out the genre beats in the process. The scares scenes are fairly well handled, but saddled with so much self-important baggage that it’s hard to even appreciate them. The director’s best sequences are his most simplistic, when he goes for the gut rather than the head. I know I’m being vague, but that’s only to avoid a lynch mob of angry readers screaming, “spoiler!” It’s pretty easy to deconstruct the major problems with the film with a discussion of the ending, but that seems inappropriate given the fact that the film won’t even be released for weeks. For now, just trust me on this: Intruders stinks.
This isn’t the first time that Frenadillo has tried to push genre tropes beyond their established conventions. That’s kind of what he does and the trick just doesn’t work this time. The problem is that when all the facts are in, it’s hard to even say if this is a horror movie at all. Perhaps a second viewing would be necessary to fully understand the director’s intentions, but I don’t think it’s even worth investing that time. The movie isn’t a disaster, it’s a noble failure. I’m sure there will be plenty of people out there thrilled by Frenadillo’s experiment, but I’d imagine most people will walk out of the theater feeling disappointed and cheated.
On the plus side, It’s definitely a well-crafted movie. Intruders is stylishly and at times even beautifully put together, but in the end all that really amounts to is the cinematic equivalent of a beautifully wrapped present with nothing inside. The failure isn’t worth dwelling on though. This is a film best forgotten and I’d imagine it’ll slip into obscurity before the year is through. Better luck next time Frenadillo. At least you tried to make something different. Not many genre directors even bother to do that.
My Grade: D
For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far: