A subtle, restrained, and really rather decent little Spanish horror picture that has been fortunate enough to get multiplex distribution in the UK, INTRUDERS has received mixed reviews in general and one very poor and inappropriate review which gives away an important twist in particular (enormous injurious slap on wrist Philip French of The Observer), all of which has encouraged me to write a few words in its defence.
Spanish in all but location and its main stars, the film begins in England with the story of construction site manager Clive Owen, whose daughter Mia has just turned twelve. Climbing a tree at her grandparents’ house in the country Mia finds an old wooden box hidden in a hole deep inside the trunk. The box contains an old crumpled piece of paper on which has been written the tale of a ghostly creature who wants nothing more than to steal a child’s face to take the place of its own blank visage. Mia copies the story out and presents it as her own at school. As the tale begins by describing how you have to say the monster’s name to wake him up it’s perhaps not surprising that before long the creature is appearing in her bedroom, with Clive seeing it as well and doing his best to fight it off. When nothing shows up on the security monitors Clive has installed it’s time for the psychiatrists and social workers to accuse Clive and Mia of suffering a dual hallucination, but as the rest of the tale unfolds we horror fans are relieved to learn that that’s not what’s going on at all. To say any more would be to spoil the surprises director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has in store (are you listening, Mr French?). I haven’t even mentioned yet that the above narrative is intercut with a similar story taking place in Spain, where a young boy is being haunted by the same monster, and his mother has turned to the local Catholic priests to try to exorcise the creature. How these two stories are eventually tied together is extremely satisfying in a movie that is leisurely paced without ever being boring, and never puts a foot wrong where so many movies might have been tempted to veer off into the realm of inappropriate CGI and silly plot developments. The acting is excellent all round and there is an emphasis on the child characters that put me in mind of some of the superior ghostly television dramas for children produced by ITV in the 1970s. Add in some properly scary apparitions in a suburban setting, and INTRUDERS could almost be likened to an episode of SHADOWS with Ramsey Campbell as script editor. In fact the movie is probably as close as the modern horror genre gets to what might be termed ‘quiet horror’. There’s no blood, very little screaming, and only a bit of CGI. But when a scene can culminate in a single handwritten line scrawled on a piece of paper that chills you to the bone you know a film’s working bloody well without the need for any of that. Good old EuroHorror - alive and well and still doing the business. INTRUDERS deserves more success than it’s probably going to get, although the league of Clive Owen fans out there (I was pretty much the only man in the cinema at the screening we attended) may help to do otherwise.