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Review: “Intruders’

Atmospheric Horror Tale

Clive Owen and Ella Purnell star as father and daughter in

Credit: Millennium Films

Above: Clive Owen and Ella Purnell star as father and daughter in "Intruders."

"Intruder" (opened March 30 throughout San Diego) is an atmospheric thriller from Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo who jumped to international attention with "Intacto" in 2001.

"Intruders" joins a recent crop of films -- "Insidious," "The Woman in Black," "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" -- that try to create old school style suspense films in an age of torture porn, rapid cuts, and jaded filmgoers.

"Intruders" sets up a pair of parallel stories both involving children, nightmares, and a boogeyman called Hollow Face. The children are in different countries: Juan (Izán Corchero) is in Spain and Mia (Ella Purnell) is in England. Both children are terrified by nightmares that leave their parents baffled. Juan writes about his nightmares and a man with no face who threatens to come and take the face and voice of a child. Mia is troubled by similar visions and her father John (Clive Owen) does his best to alleviate her fears. He turns it into a game and creates an effigy of Hollow Face to burn in the yard in an attempt to "kill" him. But it's not that easy to get rid of a boogeyman.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Millennium Films

Clive Owen is a concerned father in "Intruders."

"Intruders" taps into some primal fears -- a child's fear of something lurking in the dark and a parent's fear of not being able to protect his or her child. The film taps into kind of urban legend creepiness in terms of how the boogeyman is presented, and the film effectively creates an eerie tension and atmosphere. It mixes supernatural elements of a ghost story with real world explanations that turn it more into psychological horror. But this is also where the film runs into problems. As a supernatural tale, it doesn't really need explanations so long as it follows its own inner logic. But once it tries to create logical reasons for things happening, it creates problems and inconsistencies prompting viewers to question why things are unfolding as they do and to find flaws in the plot. Perhaps that's why "Intacto" is his most successful film. It was set in a kind of surreal realm unfettered by logic and reason.

Fresnadillo proved in "Intacto" and his first English language film "28 Weeks Later" that he can create effective atmosphere. In "Intruders" he reveals a flair for creating suspense and terror but sometimes disrupts the subtle tone with unnecessary CGI special effects. In a way, the CGI effects pull us out of the story. Contrast this with some of the practical effects in Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth."

I saw "Intruders" on a screener with two friends late at night, and I have to admit we all got caught up in the atmosphere. But other horror fan friends I have who saw it with a large audience in a theater, hated it. I mean REALLY hated it. It made me wonder if the more intimate experience of watching it at home with a small group was more conducive to buying into that atmosphere while being in a theater where impatient viewers might be snickering or making loud comments could prevent viewers from surrendering to the story.

"Intruders" (rated R for terror, horror violence, some sexuality/nudity and language) is flawed but it tries to deliver a more old-fashioned style of horror, something creepy, shadowy, and primal. It also boasts strong performances by Clive Owen, convincingly concerned as Mia's father and Daniel Brühl as a priest trying to provide comfort to Juan's mother. The scenes in the Spanish church are also some of the most effective in the film.

Companion viewing: "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," "Pan's Labyrinth," "The Woman in Black," "Nightmare on Elm Street"

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