LFF 2020: The Intruder Review
Argentinian director Natalia Meta’s sophomore feature is all about demons - internal and potentially external. It walks a deliciously fine line between the supernatural and the personal, but never commits to either, which leaves The Intruder (El Prófugo) in a limbo it can’t navigate itself out of.
We first meet our unlikely heroine Inés (Erica Rivas) as she’s doing voicework for a schlocky horror film, dubbing the original actress’ lines and dutifully letting out screams, breaths and other sound effects while the film plays out in front of her. We soon learn Inés has some unresolved trauma after a holiday with her new, but toxic boyfriend Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler) concluded in a tragic way. Inés starts to have trouble with her voice - the microphone is picking up strange noises around her and her overbearing mother doesn’t help either - but could Inés really be possessed?
If you think The Intruder sounds a lot like Peter Strickland’s sublime Berberian Sound Studio, you aren’t wrong - Strickland’s film is the obvious comparison here due to the similarities in themes and narrative, but the two films have completely different goals in mind. While Meta is clearly interested in the horror conventions and drapes her film in dread, The Intruder works neither as a horror or as a thriller, because it lacks exactly that - thrills.
Some of Inés’ dream sequences come across as terrifying, but Meta isn’t actually interesting in getting the audience’s heart rate up. The only one she wants to scare is Inés on screen, but her fear isn’t tangible or physical enough to reach us. In that sense, The Intruder feels watered down and bland.
Thankfully, Rivas is fantastic as Inés. She communicates her growing confusion and fear well, but is restricted by Meta’s direction and script, which is loosely based on C.E. Feiling’s novel El Mal Menor. It feels like a genre film trapped in the confines of trying to be something fancier and more serious. With better metaphors and deeper meaning, The Intruder could indeed have been a haunting experience, but the end result is messy and thin.
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, so luminous and powerful in Robin Campillo’s BPM, feels utterly wasted here. His character Alberto is introduced as a mysterious new lover for Inés, but their relationship feels distracting and pointless in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps that’s Meta’s biggest flaw here, constantly adding new elements to a rather simple narrative, but never making good use of them.
While The Intruder features a few truly great scenes and its sound design is flawless, this is a major disappointment from such a promising director. There’s much to admire in the film’s style, but otherwise it remains a shallow, empty shell of a much better version that could have been made.
The Intruder plays at the London Film Festival.
You can read more of our LFF coverage here.