Over the last decade we’ve experienced a golden age of Spanish-language horror-fantasy.
Directors such as Alejandro Amenabar (“The Others’’), Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Orphanage’’) and Guillem Morales (“Julia’s Eyes’’) eschew the obvious shocks of torture porn. They find creepiness in subtler forces. Some draw power from the vine-tangled visual lexicon of Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth’’).
The latest entry, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “Intruders,’’ suggests this golden age includes its share of fool’s gold.
Two children from different countries - Juan (Izán Corchero) in Spain and Mia (Ella Purnell from “Never Let Me Go’’) in England - are both tormented by a faceless boogeyman who wants to steal kids’ faces. The hooded specter, Hollow Face, seems connected to or conjured by stories they both feel compelled to scribble in their notebooks, right before bedtime.
“No dreaming about monsters, OK?’’ jokes hapless single mom Pilar López de Ayala. Later, at her wits’ end, she takes Juan to her priest, Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl from “Inglourious Basterds’’). He’s sympathetic, but powerless to stop the real or imagined visitations. Perhaps the days of “The Exorcist’’ are over.
Meanwhile, in London, sexually ripe Mia is assaulted by the faceless dude just after her 12th birthday. Understanding dad Clive Owen burns an effigy in the backyard. Then he’s attacked by Mr. Boogeyman, too. But grumpy wife/mom Carice van Houten declares them both crazy.
The two stories - one told in Spanish, the other in English - intertwine and, by the end, neatly wrap up. But under the pressure of logic, these tendrils nearly snap.
Fresnadillo has shown promise before. He directed the original magical-realist thriller “Intacto,’’ and a serviceable zombiefest sequel, “28 Weeks Later.’’ The weak link with “Intruders’’ isn’t the direction, which evokes psychological tension from mere rainstorms and fields of grass, or the presence of cats. Rather, it’s the story by Nico Casariego and Jaime Marques. The film’s point of view - and, the screenwriters’ point - meanders. Is this a child-centric, supernatural exploration of creatures that go bump in the night? Is it about parents and their responsibility to either dismiss or harbor their children’s fears? Or is it a broader metaphor for the power of storytelling?
“Intruders’’ tries to be all three. And in doing so, its muddled, overambitious story leaves us unsatisfied - you might even say hollow.Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.