Since the dawn of fictional storytelling, narratives depicting otherworldly plains of existence that inhabit and breach the periphery of what we recognise as the cognitively ‘real’ world have become an escapist institution; especially in cinema.

These worlds often materialise as fantastical utopias, hallucinogenic trips, and, perhaps most commonly, as dreams experienced by the characters that facilitate them. The latter can often be augmented into an agonising psychological endurance rather than a liminal experience when concerning nightmares, which plague and torment the exacerbating frailties of the character’s psyche.

This theme is, understandably, at its most prevalent in the horror genre, where for decades apparitional phantoms and ghouls have intrusively transcended the lucid boarders of time, space and logicality to condemn the often juvenile dreamers that conjured their being.

The infamous Freddy Krueger is cinema’s undisputed slumber-sadist, but Elm Street’s finest has some fresh competition from a young pretender on the block thanks to Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s supernatural-thriller, Intruders. His name: Hollow Face (insert a clichéd melodramatic jingle of your choice for emphasis on impending dread).

The primary plot of Intruders concerns sky-scraper maintenance labourer, John Farrow, (implausibly played by the sophisticated and clearly too well educated Clive Owen) and his paternal tribulation to protect his daughter from the enigmatic spectre that threatens to steal her facial identity for its own. These events simultaneously coincide with a family in urban Spain where another child is tormented by Hollow Face and the narrative oscillates between the two locations before unveiling a twist rooted in an inherent ancestral fear.

Intruders is another contribution to the paradigm of Spanish new-wave horror, with successful predecessors including The Devil’s Backbone, REC, and The Orphanage. Mediated through the inventive scope of Intacto director, Fresnadillo, I was enthused with a greater sense of optimism than I would have otherwise been when about to watch a commercially budgeted horror romp. Unfortunately though, instead of embracing its national cinematic identity and following in the footsteps of its enlightening genre peers, it lethargically ambles short of the pack and subsequently culminates as a mere exercise in underwhelming exasperation.

The intrusive Hollow Face makes for an intriguing yet unspectacular horror antagonist by hesitantly hinging on the precipice of being either a neurotic projection from the character’s subjectively afflicted psyches or encompassing a genuine corporeal threat. The disconcerting anonymity that comes with his unidentifiable appearance acts as a ‘hollow’ blank canvas where victim’s anxieties and insecurities can manifest, but ultimately this is no different or more effective at engendering terror than the classic mask-sheathed horror villains of the 80’s such as Mike Myers and Jason Voorhees. It just feels a bit tiresome and archaic.

One of the few plaudits that Intruders can be afforded is its attempt – albeit an unsuccessful one – to appropriate the potential perils of innate overprotective parenthood, with no demarcations of culture, and hereditary familial defects into a mainstream horror narrative. Without trying to give anything away, there is an odd subtextual undertone of parental selfishness and the inability to negate the traumas of the past by just letting go, which inadvertently preys on the impressionable susceptibility of youth.

John buys his daughter, Mia (Ella Purnell), an antique teddy bear for her twelfth birthday even though it is apparent that she has very much out-grown the desire for stuffed animals but it’s as if John is trying to suppress her development because he loves her so much and is terrified of her growing up too quickly. By attempting to ground her in a state of infancy he subconsciously imparts the neurotic idiosyncrasy that allows Hollow Face to exist in Mia’s life.

There is a scene after Mia is rendered mute with shock after a confrontation with Hollow Face and she writes her attacker a note proclaiming ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’ and posts it into her wardrobe where she believes her assailant to be waiting. As it happens, John is in the wardrobe and receives the message instead, and you can’t help but think that the note was in fact targeted at him for his inability to let Mia flourish. During a therapy session she also writes ‘I know Hollow Face doesn’t exist, but he thinks he does.’ The ambiguity surrounding exactly who the subjective ‘he’ is in Mia’s assertion is by no means as transparent as it initially appears.

Despite this interesting thematic excursion into parental neuroticism, the film is perpetually underwhelming and is littered with insidious foreplay but without ever providing the climactic pay-off. Nothing from the score, the CGI, the denouement or the contrived usage of admonitory felines can elevate Intruders to the status of its Spanish contemporaries because it is simply not at all scary, and although there are some competent set-pieces that brandish that same national DNA, the film still feels like the runt of the litter.

 

Owen and Purnell give convincing performances as a father and daughter with a unique and burdening bond but the overall film is as hollow as its antagonist’s name would suggest: an enticing exterior of intriguing ideas that eventually reveal nothing but a brittle and baron core. Intruders is yet another film that will blend into the annals of cinematic horror with the same inconspicuousness that Hollow Face adopts when dematerialising into the dark corners children’s bedrooms. Needless to say, Mr. Krueger won’t be receiving a redundancy package anytime soon.

About The Author

Ross is a Screen Studies graduate from Manchester who can be found beaming with joy rather than wincing with discomfort at cinema’s oddest, most experimental and depraved offerings.