Ren Zelen watched The Intruder (El prófugo) at London Film Festival...
Director: Natalia Meta
Writers: Natalia Meta, based on the novel by C.E. Feiling
Starring: Erica Rives, Guillermo Arengo, Mirta Busnelli, Daniel Hendler
Based on C. E. Feiling’s novel of the same name, Natalia Meta’s The Intruder is an odd feature which seems to defy categorization. We might question whether it is a psychological thriller, a horror-comedy, or a supernatural drama? It certainly has some unusual ideas, but tonally it veers all over the place.
The film begins in a fairly conventional manner as we find Inés (Erica Rivas from Wild Tales), a voice-over artist, on holiday with her new boyfriend Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler). Affectionate though he seems, he also begins to display rather controlling tendencies.
His demands finally exasperate her and one evening after they have an argument, Inés locks herself in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Leopoldo does something unforeseen and extreme which ends in his death.
After experiencing this traumatic event Inés begins to suffer from insomnia and disturbing nightmares. She continues her work as a dubbing artist and in her spare time she sings in a classical choir in Buenos Aires. Her voice is her most valued asset.
During one recording session, while she is adding a Spanish voiceover to a film which appears to be Japanese bondage porn, the sound engineer begins to hear an anomaly on the recording.
He cannot find the source of the background distortion, but it is spoiling everything Inés tries to record. Similarly, when she goes to regular practice with her all-female choir, her soprano voice will not behave itself, and she begins to sing in a lower register.
Restless nights filled with uncanny dreams leave her nervous and distracted, and this is reflected in her voice. When the interference in the recordings continues, Inés seeks medical advice and goes through a barrage of tests, but no physical problem can be found. Her doctors explain that the voice is an instrument and as such is sensitive to changes in a person’s environment or mental condition.
Inés’s surgically enhanced mother Marta (Almodóvar regular Cecilia Roth) unexpectedly arrives to stay with her. This visit from her mother only serves to disturb her more, as her mother’s attentions vary from caring, to near suffocating, and sometimes her mother’s behaviour only confuses her further.
As her nightmares and reality weave together, the buzzing interference in her studio sessions begins to take on the form of whispers. During one of Inés’s recording sessions the engineer brings over an older woman who is an old hand at dubbing in the studio. She has wild white hair and a rather new-age and ‘witchy’ appearance.
When the problem is explained she asserts that Inés is the victim of an ‘intruder’ or ‘intruders’ that have entered her conscious realm through her dreams. Her sound engineer also discovers that Inés’s body is emitting a high-level magnetic field, centered in her throat.
The old woman suggests that the only solution is a kind of ‘electronic exorcism’. Inés’s anxiety mounts when her engineer disappears. Very soon, she begins to find it difficult to tell apart her reality from her waking dreams.
Meanwhile back at the concert hall, Inés discovers that her choir rehearsal has been cancelled due to re-tuning of the auditorium’s organ and she comes across Alberto (Nahuel Perez Biscayart of 120 BPM) the enigmatic organ tuner.
Later, the intriguing, blue-eyed Alberto turns up at a party Inés is attending and she is attracted by his alluring display of dancing and his obvious interest in her. She dreams of Freudian, snake-like creatures which writhe through her bed at night.
Voice and sound are central elements of the plot, and as Inés begins to unravel, the soundtrack and sound effects enhance the increasingly unsettling mood. Cinematography is also used to create an aura of unreality using shifts in colour and light, and the Japanese film they are overdubbing adds to the sense of menace with its Giallo undertones.
Erica Rivas gives a provocative performance as Inés, clearly going through some kind of existential crisis in this second feature from Natalia Meta (her debut was the 2014 detective thriller Death in Buenos Aires), but what is actually going on is not easy to define. Is Inés’s condition psychosomatic, are her visions the onset of madness, or is she being stalked by supernatural entities?
There are many questions that might be asked about The Intruder, but don’t expect many of them to be answered. It’s never really explained what these ‘Intruders’ might be or what they want. Their source, motives and identity remain mysterious.
A vein of wry humour runs through the narrative, but the playfulness fades as Inés becomes traumatized by her curious malady, that is, until the film’s conclusion, which features a surreal, puzzling and slightly ridiculous performance by Inés and her all-female choir, and which attempts a kind of cryptic resolution.
The Intruder doesn’t make for straightforward analysis. Too many of its unusual ideas remain underdeveloped and the narrative doesn’t hang together entirely successfully. It offers some intriguing notions and creates an effective atmosphere but as these elements seem to have only the vaguest of justifications and an inadequate pay-off, the film ends up being a somewhat frustrating experience.
Review Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2020 All rights reserved.
Image - LFF