“You are surrounded by intruders,” a strange, inexplicably knowing old woman tells a haunted voice actor and singer named Inés. “You have to get in the dream and kick them out before they take hold of you.” On paper, those lines from Natalia Meta’s The Intruder promise wicked, wild supernatural warfare. The reality is something far more disappointing––and sadly, rather dull. Still, this Argentina-set thriller has offbeat humor to spare, and some legitimately clever moments. It never coalesces into anything resonant, and lacks even a single scare. Yet there are far less interesting ways to spend 95 minutes.
One rather endearing quality is The Intruder’s obvious winks at many cinematic influences. Certain moments call to mind psychological horror entries like Berberian Sound Studio and filmmakers like Dario Argento. But the figure whose presence looms largest over The Intruder is unquestionably Brian De Palma. The influence of the bearded, khaki-clad maestro is evidenced from the film’s first seconds, with deliberate shades of Blow Out.
The wonderfully expressive Érica Rivas (Wild Tales) plays the aforementioned Inés, whose ability to scream is unparalleled. It makes her a successful voice actor, and these pipes have earned her a key role in a Buenos Aires choir. Ever-stressed Inés is set to depart on holiday with her boyfriend, Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler), and it is here the film makes one of its first missteps. Leopoldo is breathtakingly annoying, a handsome but silly character whose appeal is hard to fathom. When a sleeping Inés dreams that a flight attendant is ready to knock off Leopoldo––“I’ve been watching you. I think this man isn’t right for you. Should I kill him now?”––it is hard not to feel some sense of relief.
Alas, at this juncture in the film, a dream is just a dream. A vacation getaway with a new boyfriend is fertile ground for a thriller, however, this sequence does not last long. Poor Leopoldo next annoys at karaoke, and then, following an awkward argument, suffers an accident. It is rather clear this event is set to occur, but the discovery of his death is nicely staged by Meta.
Several months later, Inés is struggling to rebuild her life. The appearance of her caring but overbearing mother does not help. Neither does a strange occurrence during her voice recordings––an eerie, otherworldly distortion. Yes, the distortion sounds a bit like Kevin McCallister’s Talkboy in Home Alone, but still, the recipe remains for some scares. The introduction of a sweet, mysterious organ-tuner, Alberto (BPM’s Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) also holds promise.
None of these introductions manage to move The Intruder to the next level. The old woman who speaks of dream intruders––she happens to be a fellow voice actor; what are the odds?––moves the plot forward. What follows, though, simply does not work. The dream-state battle to come is surprisingly short and tame. With about twenty minutes to go, a twist seems to be developing. It does not transpire the way one might expect, but does pay off slightly with two surprising character developments.
Meta keeps the proceedings moving, but she never stages the De Palma-esque visual flourish the film desperately needs. The most commendable element throughout the film is the delightfully unhinged performance from Rivas. It is simply stellar work––believable and appropriately petrified.
Considering the ingredients — a fine star in Érica Rivas, an intriguing glimpse into the world of voice acting, some dark humor — it’s disappointing how forgettable The Intruder winds up being. Meta is clearly a talented filmmaker, and shows an ability to capture mood that would make De Palma proud. Seeing what’s next for all concerned will be fascinating. What is needed, however, is a story with real payoff––and maybe some legit scares.
The Intruder screened at AFI Fest.