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SXSW 2012 Review: ‘Intruders’ Is One Frighteningly Brilliant Scene Surrounded By Mediocrity

By  · Published on March 19th, 2012

A young Spanish boy named Juan crawls out his bedroom window in search of a mewling cat, but before he can catch it he sees a shrouded figure scale the outside wall and enter his bedroom. The boy rushes back through the window to find his mother being choked by the dark figure. He yells at the intruder who immediately turns his attention to the child and begins to approach…

A young British girl named Mia (Ella Purnell) wakes in the middle of the night convinced that someone is watching her from the closet. She entreats her father to investigate, but he finds nothing until he sits on her bed in the dark trying to calm her nerves. She stares wide-eyed over his shoulder and whispers “He’s here.” Her father stands and turns just as a figure emerges from the closet…

Juan’s mother (Pilar López de Ayala) struggles to help and even asks a friendly priest for an exorcism, but Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl) suspects the devil has little to do with the boy’s troubles. Mia’s father (Clive Owen) meanwhile finds himself battling the threatening visitor but his disbelieving wife (Carice van Houten) as well. What’s the connection between the faceless intruder haunting both Juan and Mia, and will their parents’ love be enough to stop the nightmare?

Children’s nightmares are fertile ground for horror films, and Intruders does a fine job introducing the twin stories and setting up the terror, but it loses steam early and never recovers. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo knows how to shoot suspenseful and visually seductive scenes, both Intacto and 28 Weeks Later feature several, and the first third of this film features some strong imagery. The confrontation between Owen and the closet creep is the highlight though and is already a contender for my favorite scene of the year. (Seriously, it’s that good. Just wish the rest of the movie even came close to its promise.) Writers Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques bear similar fruit with their best work being front-loaded here as the stage is set for a terror-filled mystery.

But once they have to begin revealing the answers and explanations to what’s going on and how the children are connected the story becomes unnecessarily convoluted and even worse, it becomes far less interesting. The early pieces are greater than the eventual whole, and the result is a film that grows more disappointing as the minutes tick on.

Still, the acting is strong throughout including a typically fantastic performance from Owen. The role actually mirrors his recent turn in Trust to some degree (although he gets to be a lot more physical with his daughter’s assailant here), and it reminds viewers just how focused and intense a performer he can be. Purnell, whose only prior role of note was as the young Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go, does an equally fine job of making Mia a believable teenager in an unbelievable situation. Finally, Houten doesn’t have much to do aside from go topless but she earns high marks there.

Intruders is one spectacular scene in search of a movie to surround it. The idea of a parent coming face to face with their child’s nightmare is a powerful one, and it doesn’t disappoint here. Unfortunately the story’s explanation from that point forward leaves a lot to be desired. It squanders the thematic value with questionable details and plot turns. A strong cast and that aforementioned scene make the film worth watching, but this is one nocturnal visitor sure to be forgotten come morning.

The Upside: Clive Owen is a convincingly concerned father; scene where he first confronts his daughter’s nocturnal visitor is killer; Carice van Houten is lovely to behold

The Downside: Third act explanation deflates the suspense and lacks clarity; scares stop by the film’s midpoint

On the Side: This is the first of Fresnadillo’s three features that he didn’t write himself

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.