Clive Owen needs a career intervention, or at least a new agent. As recently as three years ago, Owen was headlining big Hollywood blockbusters (‘The International’) and glossy star vehicles (‘Duplicity’). Three years before that he was in two of the best movies of 2006: ‘Inside Man’ and ‘Children of Men.’ Now he’s headlining ‘Intruders,’ a dopey shoulda-gone-straight-to-video horror thriller about a low-rent mystical slasher called Hollow Face. How did he get here so fast? He’s so much better than this.
Owen plays John Farrow, family man and occasional construction worker. When I say occasional, I mean he spends exactly two scenes in the entire film working, the bare minimum required to a) establish that he has a job and b) show how dangerous that job is and what it does to his psyche. The rest of the time he spends at home with his wife Sue (Carice Van Houten) and daughter Mia (Ella Purnell), a bubbly teenager who finds a message written on a scroll hidden in the knot of an old tree. “Paging Dr. del Toro….Dr. Guillermo del Toro, you have a call on line one.”
After Mia begins reading and rewriting the story on the scroll — which is about the one-and-only Hollow Face — the man himself begins showing up in her bedroom, hounding her nights and torturing her dreams. Meanwhile in Spain, a young boy and his mother write a similar story about Hollow Face, and struggle to survive similarly “terrifying” battles with the mysterious specter. So what’s the connection between these two families?
Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and screenwriters Nicolas Casariego and Jaime Marques seem to think they’ve got some grand mystery on their hands in the interplay between these two storylines, but I figured out ‘Intruders” secret in its very first scene and I ain’t no genius (or grammar expert, apparently). Beyond that core question — which, again, should be pretty obvious to anyone who watches a lot of horror movies — there’s not much to ‘Intruders.’ The pacing is choppy and disorienting (perhaps by design), subplots, including one about a Spanish priest, are dangled and then dropped (perhaps by design), and the action scenes are Shakycam in the extreme (definitely by design, but definitely incoherent). ‘Intruders’ was either the victim of reshoots and postproduction meddling or it desperately needed some.
Fresnadillo, directing his first film since 2007′s underrated sequel ’28 Weeks Later,’ found one motif that’s legitimately creepy — the image of a face with the eyes, nose, and mouths erased — but his bad guy is a total dud. What, exactly, is scary about the sight of a guy in a giant poncho with vaguely defined supernatural powers and a face we can’t see? Not a whole lot. There’s something that Hollow Face is ultimately revealed to represent that I won’t spoil, and I suppose that something is an interesting play on the icon of the slasher villain, but that’s really all he is: a repository of metaphors without any spooky-ooky oomph to back it up. Though clearly cast in the mold of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, I wouldn’t expect
Ponchor the Dreamtaker Hollow Face to launch his own franchise any time soon.
Hopefully Owen’s career prospects improve sooner. He’s a far more talented actor than this material deserves, or even needs. He could sleepwalk through ‘Intruders’ but he doesn’t; he’s present and intense in every scene. We feel for him and his plight, although we might be empathizing more with Owen the actor than John the unlucky father.