The prominence of Spanish horror films, especially ghost and haunted house movies, has really come to the fore in the past decade, starting with Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone in 2001, and leading to movies like The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. (Granted, both of those were produced by del Toro.) Other filmmakers known more for art films, such as Pedro Almodovar and Alejandro Amenabar, have also dipped their toes into the world of ghosts, both real and metaphysical.
Five years after directing the sequel 28 Weeks Later, Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is back with Intruders, a horror movie starring Clive Owen as John Farrow, the father of a 13-year-old girl named Mia being haunted by an unstoppable boogeyman known as Hollow Face at their London home. The same thing is happening to a 9-year-old Spanish boy named Juan whose own dealings with Hollow Face may have some connection to what’s happening in the Farrow household.
ShockTillYouDrop.com had a chance to speak with Owen and Fresnadillo last week, and though sitting on a couch with the sun shining through the window might not seem like the most apt setting to talk about a dark and spooky ghost story, the way the light shined behind them put Fresnadillo and Owen’s faces entirely in shadows, making them look like Hollow Face and making for a rather disconcerting way to interview them.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: It’s been a while since “28 Weeks Later” and I know you’ve developing things over the years. Was this an idea you came up with that you developed or was it a script you found?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: You know, I always planned my career in two different sides, which is the more commercial one–movies like “28 Weeks Later” come from that place—but I always introduce some new and different vision in these movies. Then there are other kinds of movies that come from my personal side and “Intruders” is one of them. “Intruders” from the very seed of its beginning, it came from an idea that I developed with the writers through a long process. The idea was to develop some kind of investigation about the origin of fear and how when we are kids, we create monsters and how those monsters are connected with our parents and our family’s secrets.
Shock: Is “Hollow Face” based on any existing Spanish myths like the Boogeyman or was that something original?
Fresnadillo: I think it’s a cocktail based in the monsters from tales, and some kind of new thing about a monster looking for his identity, which was a theme that I was attracted to. I think that way we were trying to humanize the danger in this movie with that monster.
Shock: Clive, you’ve done a lot of genre movies but I don’t think you’ve ever done any straight horror with supernatural elements so was that something you’d been interested in exploring over the years?
Clive Owen: No, it was all literally that Juan Carlos sent me the script and I responded to the material. It wasn’t like I was looking to that thing and I didn’t read it as a horror film really. When I read it, I was much more interested in the psychology of the piece really and what was going on and the ideas Juan Carlos was exploring. I was a big fan of Juan Carlos’ work. I’d seen both “28 Weeks Later” and “Intacto” and really loved both of them, so that’s why I wanted to do it.
Shock: I want to be careful with spoilers because there are definitely some twists, but there are two parts to the movie, there’s the stuff in Spain and the part in England, so did you approach them differently or try to do one before the other?
Fresnadillo: Yes, we shot first the English one and then we made the Spanish one. I would have loved to do it in reverse but for production necessity, we did it that way, but the idea was to do it part by part. Do it first something and then jump to the next chapter of the story, which is the Spanish story.
Shock: Without spoiling anything, those two stories do influence each other, so was it hard to approach your side without having seen or experienced the Spanish story?
Owen: No, not really. I think that was more the kind of thing for when Juan Carlos really. I met the boy in the Spanish story, but really we just played our story. I saw that was I don’t think it would have made much difference if I’d seen the other half first.
Shock: As an actor, do you approach this kind of movie any different in terms of dealing with the supernatural and things we’re not sure what they are?
Owen: No, I think it does demand a kind of intensity to the acting, because you’re trying to take people to a place where they’re feeling this sort of tension and intense fear. That can often be harder than saying lines of dialogue, which is sort of putting yourself in an emotional place. That’s why I think Ella (Purnell) is so good in the movie, because in our story, she pitches her emotional state that determines the center of our story, really, and it’s harder than it looks.
Shock: How did you go about finding these kids? Not to take anything away from you, Clive, but the film is so dependent on them to work? I don’t know how much acting experience they had before doing this.
Fresnadillo: The girl had some experience because she made another movie that I’m sure that you watched called “Never Let Me Down”—she’s the young Keira Knightley in the movie—so she had some experience in filmmaking, which was a good help. Certainly in the movie, we have to deal with various scary things, so as a filmmaker, you’re concerned that the kids are going to suffer, but she was doing a fantastic job in that sense. But the boy, he was completely an amateur. He came into some sort of casting and we worked a lot in the rehearsals with him in terms of giving him enough tools to develop all the materials we wanted to show through him in the movie. At the end, he responded so well, and I think he did fantastic work. Sometimes it was tricky because some of the sequences are very tough for him, especially in the physicality and screaming and those sorts of things, but finally, you make some kind of game with them, and kids are easy. They forget everything including the bad feelings they could feel while they’re doing that, so it was a very pleasant experience.
Shock: You have a lot of interaction with the Hollow Face character, so was a lot of that done practically where you had someone there who was then replaced with CG later?
Owen: No, the big scenes with him, somebody was there doing those which was the only way to do it actually because it has to be real really.
Shock: This movie is one that you can watch and accept a lot of what’s happening as the supernatural but without spoiling anything, it can go either way.
Fresnadillo: Yeah, because I wanted to show how the monster in the movie has some kind of evolution and some sort of progress in the story. Without spoiling the plot, I think he starts being a more ethereal thing like a ghost and then he comes into the physicality. It was important to see and understand how time is making the monster more dangerous on all levels. That’s why we ended up creating the monster in a very ghostly way into some kind of physical presence.
Shock: Clive, you’ve gotten more comfortable working with kids, having played more roles as fathers in the last couple years, so can you talk about doing some of the scenes with the girl when you had horror involved?
Owen: I actually do really enjoy working with younger actors. I think there’s something really refreshing about the fact that they’re so reactive. It’s not like a honed craft, it’s much more instinctive, and it demands that you act in a similar way. I think the first thing you have to do when you’re working with younger kids is that you have to make them feel safe, because if you really want to push and stretch and go to places that aren’t particularly comfortable, the child actor needs to feel secure and safe and know that in some ways, it’s all just a thing we’re exploring and a game within, but you want to be able to commit when you go to it. You don’t want them to feel it’s an unsafe environment. I think that’s really important, just to spend time and hang-out and gain trust, and then acting a parent is more than just saying the lines, because parents with their kids are terribly open and available and you have to convey that when you’re playing the parent. If you just turn up and say the lines, it just wouldn’t register. People wouldn’t buy it. I’ve done a few films, as you say, with kids featured heavily and I’ve really enjoyed them.
Shock: As an actor, is that something you enjoy as a challenge? I’d imagine working with younger actors, you have to be on your toes since they can go to unexpected places, unlike more trained actors your own age.
Owen: The danger is with (younger) actors that if you come in too prepared, they make you look like an actor. They’re instinctive. They’re much rawer and if you come in with too many formed ideas about what you want to do in a scene with them, they show you up. They make you look phony, so you have to kind of get down there and act with them really.
Shock: There’s definitely been a renaissance in Spain with ghost and horror movies, so how do you approach the material trying to find your own way without treading on territory that’s already been covered?
Fresnadillo: If you look to yourself and your experiences, I think it’s the best way to be… I wouldn’t say “away from the Spanish filmmakers” but I think it’s important to be honest when you’re making a movie. The only way to do that is if you look at yourself and analyze your experiences, and you try to use that as sort of an inspiration for your movies. That’s the way to do it, at least in my case.
Shock: “Intruders” is an interesting movie since it mixes Spanish and English, so do you feel this is more of a transitional movie for you?
Fresnadillo: This is some kind of global story that I conceived. I needed to do it in this way because I think it was part of the story. There’s a concept inside that I wanted to share with the audience, which is no matter how far you are from your origins, no matter how much you change in your life, your nightmares are traveling with you. That’s why the movie is dealing with two different places and two different cultures, because on many levels, the idea was to show the way we travel with our nightmares.
Shock: When you read a script like this are you able to relate to it on all those levels and is that part of your decision-making process?
Owen: Yes, for sure that’s a big part and we got together and talked. I liked the script a lot and it was a very quick “yes,” but once we started on it, we spent a lot of time together discussing it and it’s always great for an actor to be totally informed on what the director’s film is really.
Shock: Where do you go from here? I know you’ve been developing other things like “Bioshock” and “Highlander” but this movie has been done since Toronto and I assume it hasn’t changed much. What have you been doing since then?
Owen: I’ve been working on some projects but it’s difficult to say which will be my next one. Yes, the way that I’m dealing with my time right now is trying to working in different things—commercial stuff and personal stuff as well.
Shock: There’s a fanbase for the “Highlander” movies that I’ve never fully understood. I liked the first movie but there are fans out there that when you talk about “Highlander” they come out of the woodwork. Is that daunting to approach and is that something you might tackle soon?
Fresnadillo: I’m working on the “Highlander” thing and I’m so keen to make it, because I think it would be a very interesting new approach into that world, but let’s see because we’re in an early stage still.
Shock: Are you looking for a new face to play the character or someone established?
Fresnadillo: Some kind of new flavor, how about that? Especially because of the big theme of the story, which is the immortality as a curse, because I found it so interesting.
Intruders opens in select cities on Friday, March 30.