Intruders is a newly released paranormal thriller, starring Clive Owen as the haunted one, and directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Fresnadillo helped revitalize the zombie genre with his brainy take on it, 28 Weeks Later. Now he's tackling time travel and mind-monsters with Intruders — while I didn't find the film entirely entertaining, I have to say the visuals and many of the ideas presented about fear were quite intriguing and so it was my pleasure to speak with Fresnadillo on those subjects.
Staci Layne Wilson: Your film brought to mind an episode of The New Twilight Zone, for me. Have you seen this one, directed by Joe Dante and written by Rockne S. O'Bannon, called The Shadow Man?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: No, but yes, more or less, because I was so influenced by the original Twilight Zone. In fact, if I remember well, I think the first time in my life that I felt such a huge freak out on a scary thing that I was watching on TV. It was from an episode of Twilight Zone which was I don't know if you remember this one, but it was a guy who had a radio a local radio. He didn't know, but he was contacted by an extraterrestrial and the extraterrestrial came through the waves. The radio waves and enters in his world and the extraterrestrial was very terrible because he was like a fire thing you know and I remembered to watch the TV that thing and I felt "my God", I was really freaked out.
Yeah, it makes you think about opening frequencies to the underworld by using Ouija boards, mediums, and stuff like that. How did that idea come to you for this film?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I think that the trigger of the story comes from a conversation that I had with my producers about the interests to make something with the idea about how sometimes fear is a legacy. Sometimes you have many fears or you have a nightmare, which come from your family, or comes from previous generations. So the idea about the fear as an inheritance of your family of your blood is something that I was so attached to because if I remember well, when I was a kid my parents decided not tell me some secret about my family. But that information that wasn't revealed, it had affected my life in many ways, on many levels, because as a kid, you absorb many things from the reality and you notice that there is something going on in your house that you don't know. But, you want to know and then at the same time your parents are trying to put you in another direction. Then that kind of situation is very conflictive and I think it triggers many fears and many things from your personal side which at the end of the day is worse than the reality itself. So yeah, that was the investigation, the personal investigation that I made with this movie, which I think comes from a very personal feeling and a very personal theory about fear and the original fear. And I needed to share with the audience because I decided to plan my career in two different ways with commercial movies with mainstream and wider audience. But I started with projects which are challenging the audience and putting them in a very controversial and tricky place. So I think truly this is one of these movies.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from your family on this? Are they like, "Gee, thanks a lot! You think we are giving you this fear" [laughs]?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: You know I wouldn't blame them for doing what they did because they did it in a nice way they were trying to protect me. The intention wasn't bad, the intention was good. But with the time and with distance as an adult you realize that things would be better if they were making another way. But I'm not saying that they are responsible of my fears they try what they could. And sometimes it's difficult to deal with several situations in your life. And then you think you have to avoid giving that to your kids.
And do you have kids?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: No. Maybe it's time, because I just overcame that problem.
There you go, you can start a whole new generation of fearlessness. So how did Clive come onto this project? He has played a variety of different kinds of roles. But what was it that made you think that he could play John Farrow?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Clive is one of my favorite actors, by far. And when I was thinking about this movie and a father strong figure, who little by little is becoming an afraid and a scary boy, I thought Clive would be perfect for this because he is such a great presence on the screen. And I was so keen to see how that fantastic and straight and solid man is becoming a boy. A boy in the most fragile and vulnerable way. That was my intention with him and when I shared the story with Clive, he was so open to that without any hesitation, without any shame and on the other hand, I think that something that was important to mention, which is him as a father. I think he put many things on the table, while we were making a movie. And I learned a lot with him, because I am not a father. He is a father and he is concerned about many things. And I think it's in the movie. I think that the warmness and the good feelings that you could breathe in the movie. In some moments with it. His thoughts come from his amazing experience as a man, as a real man. So I really appreciate that from him, and it was an honor to work in this movie with him.
For fans of horror and suspense, there's not a lot of, and I don't know if there is any, really, blood in the film. So But how would you sell it for fans of the cinema fantastique, the scary and the supernatural?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I would say one simple thing, which is this movie is about fear, not terror. I will distinguish the two things in a different way because I think terror or horror is something that we feel when we have the menace, the real menace, the dangerous creature in the world. A zombie, a vampire, whatever you want. That is when you feel the horror, the terror and then you run away. Or you try to fight with them or whatever. But in this movie this movie is about that preliminary moment of horror, which is fear. I can give you an example; imagine that you're waking up in the middle of the night, because you hear some noise from the kitchen, and then you hear again. The noise when you are awake and then the journey from your bedroom until the kitchen to know what's going on in the kitchen is the moment of fear. It's the moment you think many possibilities of what's going on in the kitchen. A ghost, your grandma, which is coming from her death to tell you something important, a neighbor who is completely tired and fed up with you and he wants to kill you or rob you. Telling you this and thinking those possibilities is showing my personality more than the noise itself or the real menace itself. So that's why I'm so keen to see that process, because you're assisting about the real personality of the person who is having this. So Intruders, it's about that moment of fear about what's going on.
When I was watching the movie, I felt like when I was a kid… I would've really loved that movie when I was 12 or 13. But then there is a nude scene of a woman, kind of out of nowhere. So how do you straddle that line between who the audience is for this movie?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I think I completely agree with you, this movie is playing with two levels, the adult's one and the child's one. I think that my intention the whole time is to create a canvas that both sides are sharing. Because I have got a feeling that no matter how old you are, there is some kind of boy or girl inside of you and that boy or girl is reclaiming more or less attention. It depends on many things in your life. My feeling is, if you have a nice and loving family in the beginning of your life, then probably that boy is going to be so calm, and so quiet. But, if you have a difficult childhood was some kind of lack of love, from your parents, that boy or girl inside of you is screaming the whole time. Many times in your life and it's becoming a trouble. So that's why this movie is a canvas to see how sometimes the boy I mean, the childhood, and the adults are sharing the same place.
So it's not always a comfortable coexistence, is what you're trying to say?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Exactly, it's not comfortable at all. Because you have to sit down with that boy or that girl inside of you comfortably and to talk with them and to try to have some kind of agreement, because they scream a lot and they don't let you live your life in a free way. So that's why it's true, we are sharing things and sometimes when you're watching the movie you say it looks like a child movie. But then it becomes an adult movie. That's why I was trying to do that kind of commonplace.
The American audience is always trying to find a slot for things. Square pegs in square holes only, please. And this could be a little uncomfortable for some of us in that way.
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Completely, it's ambiguous it's controversial, and it's tricky. But that's what it is. I really love to push the edge, to push the limits sometimes and to challenge the audience. I must confess that because I was challenging myself doing this movie. And that's why in a natural way, I think the result is this kind of challenging movie as well.
Was that when you first endeavored to do this film with two concurrent time frames, and a mystery and we don't really know what's going to happen until the end, that the process of editing it. Did you already have a clear idea in your mind as to where you would go, or did you find a lot in the editing for the story?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: In the editing, let me tell you, and it was so difficult to find that proper rhythm, proper shape, and the logic back-and-forth in the movie, because in the beginning to be honest it was a mess. It was a complete mess and it was scary. When I watched the first cut I thought "oh my God, I'll fuck it up". But finally, with time and patience, I think we found some structure, which I think is splits the story in a lower-level. I think it's creating this shadow that at the end you're going to understand why it's split. And why on some levels those stories are really really deep and connected.
When it came to creating this world of darkness and shadows and the trepidation of having to look in the closet, you do on occasion show, the 'monster' for lack of a better word. How did you decide upon the look of it to make it not really identifiable. But it has to be something that we can all see as an audience?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: My inspiration was the monsters from the tales of the kids, combined with the concept that I was looking for, which is an entity. I think if the movie is a thriller about a mystery or what happened although, who is this monster? Obviously the monster is a monster, who doesn't have a face. Faceless is the best visual representation of the central concept of the movie. So finally we came into this kind of slasher monster but with this side of psychological resonance, which is the monster doesn't have a face, [but] always at the ending was a distorted face or it was a broken face, but no face in a conceptual way. So finally, we ended up in removing any sign of face because I find it more scary and more provocative thinking about the final resolution of the story as well. When you're going to know the truth and all of that. So if you want to hide something, hide it completely. That's why the faceless is the logic path into the story.
This kind of reminds me of the Eyes Without a Face imagery, the French film. Or Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. When it comes to your own cinematic fright fests, what are some of your favorite ones that have influenced you as a filmmaker or encouraged you, or challenged you?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Movies you mean that probably.. if I have to define a big influence for this movie. I'm a huge fan of The Exorcist, because I really love the connection between the supernatural and the human side. And I found that movie very, very human in the sense that you could breathe with the characters and their humanities. I love Kubrick and I love The Shining. It was a very challenging movie as well. It's amazing how that movie survives all the times. And recently I was watching the movie that I really love and it's funny because it's a movie that I probably have watched 50 times. Every time that they put it on the TV I can't resist, it's like I'm completely hypnotized by it, which is The Silence of the Lambs. I think it's one of the last thriller horror things that show with the master of some kind of interesting plot and a nice plot, which is if you want to go to the dark side. You have to be followed or, or you have to be gotten by a dark person.