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BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - THE INTRUDER

the intruder review
A singer/dubbing artist's life is impacted by strange forces following a traumatic incident.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Natalia Meta

Starring: Cecilia Roth, Nahuel PĂ©rez Biscayart, Erica Rivas, Daniel Hendler, Guillermo Arengo

the intruder poster



Adapted from C.E. Feiling’s novel 'El Mal Menor', director Natalia Meta's The Intruder is a story of possession. You won't find any pea soup or spinning heads on display here, mind. In fact, visual effects are entirely absent. Instead, Meta's film is a resolutely old school horror movie that relies foremost on the performance of its leading lady, Erica Rivas, to sell its terrors.

the intruder review

Rivas is Ines, a gifted vocalist who oscillates between performing as a soprano in a Buenos Aires choir and dubbing foreign horror movies into Spanish. While on what should be a romantic getaway in Mexico, Ines gets into an argument with her companion, the slimy Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler), and retreats into their hotel room's bathroom to escape his jealous interrogations. Exiting the bathroom, she finds Leopoldo floating face down in the hotel swimming pool, having apparently committed suicide.


We catch up with Ines three months later, when she's back at both her workplaces, but struggling with her dual vocations. Her singing voice appears to be cracking, and she's relegated to the choir's mezzo section. Her dubbing is plagued by a mysterious background noise that her sound engineer can't make any sense of. The troubles continue for Ines as she sees visions of Hendler at parties and in concert audiences. Meanwhile her downstairs neighbour is complaining of noises coming from Ines's apartment at times when Ines swears she was asleep.

the intruder review

The Intruder is a classic story of a woman being menaced by sinister and inexplicable forces, but what's interesting about Meta's take on this well-worn format is how it's her heroine's career that is most at risk here rather than any physical danger, perhaps a reflection of a very specific millennial dread - there's little time to fear death when you're worrying about paying this month's rent. Ines's role as a dubbing artist reflects the situation she's enduring as she finds herself losing her voice as something else seeks to replace it. She's being gaslit, but not by any human force.


With a notable absence of sex, violence and special effects, The Intruder could have been scripted in the 1940s, and it owes a considerable debt to the productions of Val Lewton. As with the heroine of Cat People, we get the sense that Ines's possession is part of her destiny, a calling to embrace her true self (the movie could be open to a trans interpretation). She seems relatively unbothered by Leopoldo's death, which she appears to treat as an inconvenience at worst, and maybe this lack of empathy is what makes her a fitting receptacle for whatever malignant entity seeks to consume her from within. Nods to classic horror also appear in the form of a sinister organ tuner who Ines finds herself attracted to; this subplot recalls both Phantom of the Opera and Carnival of Souls, both of which heavily feature pipe organs, those most gothic of instruments.

the intruder review

Present in almost every frame of The Intruder, Rivas is required to do as much heavy lifting here as Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion or Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby, and she proves up to the task. The difference here is that Rivas's protagonist isn't driven to terror so much as to distraction. The slow takeover of Ines's body, mind and soul is rendered not as an explicit existential threat but rather a spanner in her biological works, making The Intruder ultimately an allegory for an unwanted physical ailment and the social and psychological disruption caused by such an affliction.

The Intruder plays on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 from October 12th.


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