BFI London film Festival 2020 – Film Review – The Intruder (2020)

Horror resides deep within everyday occurrences in this elegant genre-spanning psychodrama from Argentina.

Inés splits her work life between singing in a prestigious choir and dubbing bonkers Japanese flicks into Spanish. Constantly at the mercy of the standards and demands of others, she is a  talented but creatively enslaved young woman.

On holiday with her latest boyfriend, she experiences a terrifying lucid dream on the plane and has another nerve-jangling episode in a tourist attraction bat cave. After getting shitfaced at the hotel karaoke, Inés becomes embroiled in a seemingly arbitrary tragedy that destabilises her existence and ruptures her perceptions of reality.

Now, when Inés ties to sing or perform her voice-over duties she is plagued by vocal dissonance and ethereal interference that appears to be emanating from an inner domain no longer under her control.

Loosely based on the cult 90’s horror novel The Minor Evil, writer/director Natalia Meta takes two of its core themes as the framework for her lively and entertaining genre mash-up. Firstly the concept that true fearfulness is under the ownership of a story’s characters, not a mandate for narrative advancement. Secondly, that terror hides in the plain sight of workaday normality for those that are burdened with the faculties to witness them.

These nuanced, yet highly potent mechanics lend Meta’s film a bold sense of originality that allows her artistic flair to sweep away genre assumptions and break from the shackles of the very tropes it exploits.

This is personified in the extended prologue sequence that lulls us into the false dawn of a relationship drama before pulling back the curtain to reveal the dark skies of psychological horror. The belated title card that follows arrives on the gilded wings of one of the most breathtaking camera pans you will see in any film this year.

The Intruder is full of such surprising flourishes and neat touches. One of her colleagues is convinced that Inés has become a conduit for unwelcome paranormal pilot fish that she has herself given permission to latch. When Inés comes to update her it is in a packed editing studio recording background ambience. In a moment of sheer brilliance, the imagined sound setting swaps from hair salon to funeral mid-conversation and the pair adjust their pitch and tone accordingly.

Meta knows she is tapping on the door of cliche with some of her lines of attack but her response is to turn in into a concrete knock. She drenches her film in the pasteurised palette of vintage Italian horror cinema and ups the ante on the minus fucks given Cinéma vérité of Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio.

Another gag reflex she utilises in the fight against thematic regurgitation is to give her movie a cheeky sense of humour. The script is witty and sardonic, however, it is the visual and auditory jokes that prove the most piquant.

There is a self-playing organ gag that fondly mocks one of horror’s oldest mannerisms and a slapstick musical scare cue that sees the director fully living up to her surname.

The cavernous auditorium that serves as the film’s principal backdrop is highly impressive, even more so are the spectacular metallic guts of the state of the art concert organ it houses. A musical instrument of such delicate intensity that even human body heat can disrupt its equilibrium.

Every swish of the movie’s sonic signature is modulated to harmonise with the escalating delirium as The Intruder explores the fragile power of acoustics, both architectural and biological.

Érica Rivas is superb as the quirky Inés and as her life undeservedly flushes down the paranormal pan we can’t help but feel aggrieved for her. Her inerrant neediness is portrayed with sensitivity and enough charm to keep it from being unctuous. This vulnerable disposition and the consequent willingness to allow passengers to infiltrate her turbulent orbit is the key to the pandora’s box that unleashes The Intruder of the title.

Inés is a tender tinder pile of untapped desire and although The Intruder dabbles frequently in the arena of eroticism it never reaches the levels of explicitness required to usher in the desperate flailings of exploitation. This again is entirely deliberate on Meta’s part as she compounds her determination to subvert genre conventions and pervert the vernacular of horror movie etiquette.

Dismissing The Intruder as too insipid to be deemed a true horror film is also to dismiss the entire point of  Meta’s impressive sophomore feature. One of her motivations is to elevate the fright flick into the higher echelons of more artistically lauded cinema while simultaneously planting a disrespectful tongue into the grooves of her anarchic cheek. However, the main impetus appears to remain loyal to her source authors philosophy and tell a story about horror rather than a horrifying story.

Just as Inés traverses realities so does The Intruder transcend compartmentalisation, vaulting over the boring dividers of classification to deliver a revitalising burst of throat-clearing cinema.

★★★★


Drama, Horror Thriller | Argentina, Mexico, 2020 | Cert: TBC | 95 min | BFI London Film Festival | 12th & 15th Oct. 2020 | Dir. Natalia Meta| Cast. Guillermo Arengo, Mirta Busnelli, Daniel Hendler


From 7 to 18 October 2020, the BFI London Film Festival will be the first ever edition to be widely accessible wherever you are in the UK, with over 50 virtual premieres, free online events and cinema screenings across the land. Find out more HERE.