Film critic Pauline Kael once famously wrote, “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.”
A genre-specific update these days might read: Horror films are so seldom watchable that we should appreciate anything that isn't contemptible torture porn.
INTRUDERS, a modest European thriller from Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later), has a couple of things going for it. First, it has Clive Owen in the lead, which never hurts. And second, it sticks to old-fashioned scary movie tropes, staying well clear of gratuitous gore or ironic hyperviolence played for laughs.
The film tells two stories, actually, separated by time and distance but connected in an eerie fashion. In the first story, a young boy in Spain (Izan Corchero) is menaced by a hooded figure who steals into his room at night. The boy calls the monster Hollow Face, and his mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala) seems to know something about the manifestation. But she isn't talking, and the boy is forced to hide alone under the covers and ignore the blood dripping from the ceiling.
Meanwhile, in London, 13-year-old Mia (Ella Purnell) is being stalked by the same creature, only this time Hollow Face must contend with Mia's dad (Owen), a construction worker who may have his own connection to the monster.
Back in Spain, Luisa takes her boy to the local Catholic priest in an effort to exorcise the demonic Hollow Face. In London, John and his wife (Carice Van Houten) consult the modern secular exorcist known as the family therapist. One is about as effective as the other, it seems. Which is to say, not at all.
Intruders has a few scary moments (too few, probably) and an imaginative gimmick in which Hollow Face removes his victims' eyes and mouths via digital effects. Ol' Hollow really wants a face of his own, you see, and there might be some interesting subtext here about adolescence and identity, if you want to dig for it.
Director Fresnadillo never teases out the psychological spookiness, though, and the movie's twisty ending raises more questions than it answers. It's also troublesome that Hollow Face resembles too many hooded specters from movie history, up to and including Harry Potter's Dementors.
But Clive Owen is compelling, as always, and fans of old-school horror will appreciate the suspense strategies employed throughout. There's another interesting thread, too. Both children attempt to cope with the apparent haunting by writing down stories of Hollow Face. But does the act of writing dispel the demon, or summon him?
Good question! That's one to grow on, kids. Keep this puzzler in your pocket for future English class assignments.
FORMAT: DVD, Blu-ray and digital
EXTRAS: A couple of standard-issue behind-the-scenes featurettes
Also New This Week:
The History channel miniseries HATFIELDS & McCOYS has been released to DVD and Blu-ray this week with some extra behind-the-scenes features. The five-hour series stars Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the ornery patriarchs of Appalachia's most famous feuding families, and broke several basic cable ratings records earlier this year. (For a radically condensed version of the story, try this.)
Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki works out of France in his latest film, the comedy-drama LE HAVRE, new to DVD and Blu-ray this week.
The 1937 French war drama LA GRANDE ILLUSION, a perennial contender in those Greatest Films of All Time lists, has been reissued to Blu-ray with a generous set of movie geek extras.
Finally, if you must, Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore star as mother and daughter in the teen texting comedy LOL, based on a French film, none of which I am making up.
Plus: The indie horror thriller ATM, from the writer of Buried; Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original TOTAL RECALL, repackaged on Blu-ray; and TV-on-DVD collections from MELROSE PLACE, the BBC's MISFITS and MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.