INTRUDERS is an uncommon horror story that uses few of the familiar tropes to which an audience can cling for comfort, and those it does use, it twists for its own and novel purposes. The roots of fear is the focus, and the impotence of societal institutions in dealing with them as seen in two separate stories whose tangential relationship is a creeping terror named Hollowface. In tandem tales, he haunts two children, one in England, one in Spain, both with parents who suffer the torment of being unable to protect their children, each failing by doing what they think is best.
Hollowface’s genesis is the vivid and macabre imagination of Juan (Izan Corchero), the only child of a nervous single mother (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) in Spain, a mother with secrets who has convinced herself that she had kept her son safe from them. A nightmare about a hooded figure who breaks into his apartment provokes disturbing behavior in the boy, sending his mother to seek relief from Holy Mother Church in the form of Father Antonio Bruhl). Though warned away from the boy and his mother by an older, less idealistic priest convinced that the problems are psychological, not spiritual, Antonio’s compassion won’t let him abandon the terrified mother and her brooding child.
In England, Hollowface’s victim is Mia (Ella Purnell), a 12-year-old on the cusp of all things grown-up, and both delighted and a little daunted by it. On her birthday, she discovers a weathered box and an even more weathered scrap of paper that tells the story of Hollowface and his quest to tear the face off of a boy in order to become normal again. Soon Mia is seeing things in her closet, and having nightmares that prompt her father (Clive Owen) to burn a monster in effigy to assuage his daughter’s fears. It doesn’t work.
Throughout there is the uncomfortable mix of childhood innocence giving way to the sensuality of adulthood. Children know more than they let on, parents refuse to acknowledge the shifting realities as puberty or danger or both loom as presence all to palpable, but unacknowledged. The silence is as unsettling as the nightmare image of Hollowface himself, and the many metaphors he may or may not encompass. More troubling is the idea that the very closeness of parent and child doesn’t just provide nurturing warmth, but is also somehow responsible to the child’s fragile state of mind.
The camera work is as subtle as the storytelling, nimbly re-imagining reality so that with relentless regularity, the usual constructs fail to apply The dark cloth of Hollowface’s voluminous costume floats through black night, as though it were an extension of the darkness itself, every shadow it makes reflected back on itself with an inescapable malice. The ensuing chaos, both of mind and landscape, is far more disturbing and at a far more primal level than a mere home invader with malicious intent. The one that lurks in Mia’s closet, evading all attempts to thwart his entry, robs her of speech with a slow wipe of his hand across her mouth before he bolts through a window and into thin air.
INTRUDERS is a work of mood and suggestion, ably told with eerie restraint and performances from Hollowface’s targets that are admirably precise in conveying fear and guilt. Hollowface is little seen, but haunts the proceedings as palpably as the he haunts the characters on screen. Defying science and religion both and striking at the darkest places in the psyche, it exposes the fragility of both life and of sanity. The true monster is something far dangerous to contemplate, and all too real.