The perpetually frightening atmosphere of Intruders is continuously challenged and ultimately defeated by a confusing structure, gaps in logic, and a twist ending that raises more questions than it answers. Before we know the real secret of the film, we must blindly work our way through a plot that repeatedly blurs the line between reality, dreamscape, and pure fantasy. When the secret is revealed, we’re somewhat disillusioned, as it forces us to reprocess the entire film and come to the conclusion that it could not have unfolded the way it did. That’s assuming, of course, that I didn’t miss something along the way, which is certainly possible given the difficulty I had sorting through facts, characters, and events. What really eats away at me is that, short of me issuing a spoiler warning, I can’t be any more specific than that.
The film intercuts between two separate stories that will dramatically converge into one during the final act. What links them together during the first two acts is a shared brush with what appears to be a supernatural presence – a hooded, shadowy figure known as Hollowface, so named because he quite literally has no face. He can also “tear away” someone else’s facial features so that the person is left with a head that looks like a blank flesh canvas. Even before the twist, we’re left to wonder if such a physical mutilation is literal or figurative, but I’ll get into that later. He’s noticed by two characters, both young. One is a boy from Spain named Juan (Izan Corchero), who can’t be any older than six or seven. The other is a twelve-year-old girl from England named Mia (Ella Purnell).
Hollowface enters their lives in rather perplexing ways. In Juan’s case, Hollowface slips in through an open window in the middle of a rainstorm; he tries to strangle Juan’s mother, Luisa (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), only to stop when Juan enters the room and try to, I don’t know, consume him. This leads to a physical altercation between all three, which then leads to a confrontation on the scaffolding just outside the bedroom window. After that, I’m not really sure what the logistics are. Hollowface continuously reappears in Juan’s bedroom in the most ghostly of ways, although most of the time, the scenes end with Juan waking up screaming. Complicating matters further is the fact that all this started with Juan writing a story for a school assignment, one that didn’t yet have an ending.
Mia’s situation is even more baffling. Whilst visiting her grandparents’ secluded countryside estate, she reaches into a hole at the top of a tree and discovers an old matchbox. Within this box is a folded piece of paper, one that tells the fairytale-like story of Hollowface. After returning home, she claims it as her own for a school assignment, although she’s not sure how it ends, as that part of it was smudged out after years of sitting within the tree. She will repeatedly write things down, as if, I don’t know, willing Hollowface into being. Sure enough, he continuously manifests himself from within her bedroom closet. At one point, he attacks her and appears to “rip off” her lips. And yet her lips remain. She does, however, lose the ability to speak. She then cryptically tells – or, more accurately, writes down – to her therapist that she knows Hollowface doesn’t exist, but he thinks he does.
The only other person who can see Hollowface is Mia’s father, John (Clive Owen), a construction worker. The bond between father and daughter is strong, which comes into question as the film enters its final act. Indeed, we also question the bond between Juan and his mother, who’s perpetually frightened. We don’t know why until the end, and even then, it doesn’t make much sense given the sequence of events that take place. The single most bizarre inclusion is that of Father Antonio (Daniel Bruhl), who keeps re-entering mother and son’s life, presumably because he’s attracted to Luisa. She requests something of him, something that, given what we learn at the end, doesn’t seem all that likely. What did she think she would gain?
I understand how maddeningly vague this review has been, but the plot is constructed in such a way that I can’t get into detail. Not that the details matter all that much; they only make figuring this movie out more difficult. To give credit where credit is due, Intruders successfully establishes mood and, initially, keeps you on the edge of your seat in suspense. I would have appreciated it, however, if the story had a better grasp of an understandable plot and more easily defined characters. It might seem like the ending provides you with an explanation, but in reality, it only makes the waters murkier. It’s one of those resolutions that isn’t a resolution at all – a starting point for who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. The more explaining it does, the less sense it makes.
Written by Chris Pandolfi