Into the pantheon of horror movie creatures comes Hollowface, the cloaked villain of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “Intruders.” In this horror film, two separate families are stalked by the faceless killer who seeks his own identity. The film stars Clive Owen, who is used to fighting all sorts of bad guys, but has never explicitly tackled a ghost.
“You’ve got to play it real,” Owen told us in an interview alongside Fresnadillo, comparing “Intruders” to his work on action picture “The Killer Elite.” Owen shares more than a few scenes with Hollowface, including several physical encounters. “Getting to that place can be more difficult than reading two pages of dialogue. You have to play it very straight.”
This proved to be even greater a challenge given Fresnadillo’s creation of the monster, which is occasionally physical, but often CGI. “We invested a lot of time in it,” Fresnadillo says. “I was working on the design of the monsters with the art director and costume designer. And we researched monsters in fairy tales and fables, but at the same time I wanted to have a new approach, specifically to try to connect the monster with a human emotion. And the idea of a monster trying to find his own identity, trying to steal a face, to exist. You can’t establish the eye contact, which is scary, but at the same time not having a face has to do with desperately seeking identity, which I think is important to the story.”
As far as utilizing both CGI and a physical actor, Fresnadillo wanted the design to wink at the audience. “I wanted to express through storytelling that the monster had a little bit of evolution, a bit of progression,” he says of “Intruders,” which splits its time between the family life of Owen’s character and the tale of a Spanish-speaking little boy haunted by the same creature. “In the Spanish part of the story, he’s more ethereal. In the English story, the appearance becomes more physical, more real. I was trying to show that the monster has a kind of evolution because I believe that if you’re running away from your monster, your nightmares, the monster becomes more real, and more dangerous.”
This was a large part of why Owen took on the role, eschewing concerns that this would be just another horror film. “When I read the script, I saw it more of a psychological thriller,” he says. “I was interested in the idea of parents passing their fears onto their kids. I don’t think that’s a supernatural thing, I think that kids soak up everything about their parents, including fears and worries.” That concept was key given that Owen’s character encounters strife with his own wife, played by Carice Van Houten. “There’s a strange relationship, because she kind of distances herself,” he says, noting that Van Houten was great to work with. “The intense relationship is the father and daughter, that’s where the problems are, and she’s kind of on the outside looking in.”
But perhaps it’s Owen’s way of admitting his own mortality. “There’s no accident that in the last few years I’ve done ‘The Boys are Back,’ ‘Trust,’ and this,” he says, regarding the shift in his career. “I am a father, and to explore that on film is interesting to me, and I also like working with younger actors. I find it very refreshing, they’re really reactive, responsive, and it’s more immediate. It’s not a honed sort of craft.”
“Intruders” is now playing. Here’s our review of the film from SXSW.