A little boy in Spain is terrorized by a faceless spectre that attacks in the night, oozing out of the shadows in the corner of his bedroom. A preteen girl in London writes a horror story for her class, which appears to draw that same monster, whom she dubbed Hollowface, out of the ether to hide in her closet, biding its time until it shall choose to attack and steal her body for itself (or so her ongoing story indicates). Did Mia (Ella Purnell: Never Let Me Go) invent the creature that is also terrorizing Juan (Izán Corchero)? Is she tapping into some level of subconscious childhood hell that adults have forgotten about? But wait! Then Mia’s dad (Clive Owen: Killer Elite) sees the monster, too, even battles it in Mia’s bedroom. What the heck could be going on?
Alas that screenwriters Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques don’t seem to understand that movie monsters need something more primally urgent about them than they’ve bothered to attach to Hollowface. They almost had it, with the psychosexual horrors they allude to: when Juan sees Hollowface attack his mother (Pilar López de Ayala), it might almost be a child’s interpretation of his mother being raped… or even just of an act of consensual intercourse a young boy might well misunderstand. (The presence of a handsome young Catholic priest [Daniel Brühl: Inglourious Basterds, The Bourne Ultimatum] compelled to help the pretty young single mother seems ripe for creating some hearty confusion in a little boy. But this potential tangent is ignored.) Mia’s relationship with her father carries its own kind of discomfort: she’s just had her twelfth birthday and is growing into a lovely young woman, yet Dad still treats her like she’s a little girl; her dark fantasy of a strange menacing male creature in her closet is surely a response to her own burgeoning sexuality, which is likely making her father anxious, too. But all of this isn’t even subtext — they’re just wisps in the wind that the writers appear not to have noticed were even there.
Casariego and Marques do manage to craft a bit of cultural incongruity in how events in Spain are dealt with through the prism of God and Church while similar doings in England call for security cameras and shrinks… but even the religion-versus-reason subtext is underdeveloped. It’s always frustrating to see the latent possibilities in a tale slip away, particularly when there is much to otherwise recommend. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) generates some spooky tension and some fresh visuals from what little he had to work with, and the relationship between Mia and her father is very nicely developed. It’s not the sort of relationship we often see onscreen, and Owen is absolutely lovely as the expressive father of daughters (see also: Trust, from last year), which might be the last thing we’d expect from an actor whose reputation was built on reserved tough-guy roles.
Kudos to Intruders for trying to do something new with the genre. Unfortunately for us, it is all the more disappointing when a film that’s neither here nor there points us so tantalizingly in the direction of its own lost greatness.