Like many films at this year’s BFI London Film Festival, Natalia Meta’s The Intruder enjoys toying with what is real and what is supernatural in this Argentine psychological thriller. Reality becomes the dream and vice versa with apparent ease. Even lead character, Buenos Aires choir singer and a voice artist Ines (Erica Rivas from Wild Tales) becomes steadily confused and distressed by her experience of ‘something’ happening inside of her. This ‘something’ is the narrative’s mystery that we all hope to uncover in the end.
However, as curious as Ines’ investigation gets, the overplay of ambiguity favoured in filmmaker Meta’s second feature masks any truly satisfying resolutions – as fun as the film’s darkly playful and off-kilter nature is, even ending with a complete curve ball of something akin to Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin.
Whether alien invasion is the intended explanation, Meta’s muted cinematography sets up Ines’ agitated mood as she jets off on a holiday with her overenthusiastic and rather entitled new boyfriend Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler) who gives nervous flyer Ines a sleeping pill, resulting in a harrowing nightmare mid-flight.
This chemical aid may well have had a greater impact on the artist’s mental state as the pair return to their hotel room in the evening, after Leopoldo’s over-solicited and somewhat embarrassing behaviour at dinner leads to one too many drinks and an early night for the couple. A tragedy then plagues Ines and leads to the inner mystery escalating once she returns home. Her singing suffers, as does her voice work, as her vocals become affected.
Meta has been greatly influenced by the likes of Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, where sound editing plays a pivotal role in scoring the character’s mood and conjuring the eerie audible depiction of the mystery intruder within Rivas’ compelling portrayal.
Apart from a couple of creepy bed scenes mirroring many a body-snatcher horror scene, very little else is known about Ines’ inner demons. Again, this suggests more psychological trauma is at play, rather than the supernatural. However, Meta’s constant restraint with her narrative and odd tonal moments serve to draw out then diminish any horror angle. Mum Marta’s (Cecilia Roth of Pain & Glory) unexpected visit does little to give further insight into her daughter’s psyche either, perhaps only to explore the presence of quirky organ tuner Alberto (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) on Ines’ well-being.
Next, we are back in supernatural horror territory when Ines listens to the genre’s cliched, wise old lady character. In this film it is fellow voice actress Adela (Mirta Busnelli) who knows more of the odd noises Ines has inside of her and suggests enlisting the studio sound recordist’s help in locating them, like some audio exorcism. The question is still the ‘intruders’ motive, and whether ‘they’ are actually a thing. Sadly, this is never resolved.
In this respect, The Intruder feels muddled in what it wants to achieve. If Meta’s intention was to make her film genre-evading, she has certainly achieved this. However, in doing so, it is to the detriment of any meaningful journey into either category. Regardless of how captivating Rivas is in portraying the extent of her character’s turmoil and flashes of ecstasy, without this genre context, we are none the wiser about Ines and her whole sinister experience than we were to start with.