In Intruders, a young girl's imagination runs away with her when she starts writing scary stories, and the monster becomes real. Or is it? The director best known for the intense 28 Weeks Later, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, slows things down with Intruders, a supernatural tale about secrets and childhood trauma. I sat down with Fresnadillo, and we chatted about ghosts, fear, and the secrets in his own closet.
Intruders deals with childhood trauma. Is that what drew you to it?
I think this movie comes from such a personal feeling. An unsettling, disturbing environment that I grew up with as a kid in my family home. My mother decided not to tell me something about what is going on in my house, and I felt affected by that and imagined many things that probably weren't going on. I created a ghost, a monster, a nightmare, with that kind of secret in my family. This movie is about that and a very personal feeling I need to share. I found [this story] very universal. I understand how parents are trying to protect their kids by not telling them the truth or the reality. But I think that is a huge mistake because then the kids are dealing with the unknown - something they don't understand. I think that is the beginning of many nightmares and many monsters you can create.
So the monsters a child can create in his head are worse than real-life monsters?
Did you imagine monsters in the closet when you were a kid?
Yes, like every single kid. But in this case, the monsters or the nightmares or the bad feelings I had as a kid, I think they were connected on some level with my family. That was the bad part.
Intruders is a slower, much more paced film than your best-known film, 28 Weeks Later. Was that a conscious decision, to go in the opposite direction?
In 28 Weeks Later, the feeling that drives the movie is rage and anger. So when I was making the movie, I thought the pace had to match. You have to feel that while watching the movie - like the adrenaline is taking over. Intruders is about fear. I think fear is the preliminary state of terror. 28 Weeks Later is about terror. This movie is about that moment when you are walking towards the unknown. You don't know what you are going to find, and you are thinking about many possibilities. I find that moment very interesting. I wanted to explore that moment. I think the rhythm of that moment is like a movie; it is almost hypnotic. It came from a very organic place for me.
The families in this film are trying to deal with their monsters in very disparate ways. One family chooses religion, and the other chooses science. Do you tend to lean towards one or the other?
I was trying to present both sides equally. Particularly in this story, both sides are failing with this case. They are incapable of taking care of this case. The thing that finally works is the father. He really humanizes doing what he's doing. It was meant to show the different ways to solve the problem, but my intentions were to show that either science or religion are not enough to solve an emotional problem.
Can you talk about how you came up with the creature design in the film?
When I was thinking aobut the monster, I thought that we had to make it a visual representation of the story. I think one of the big themes in the movie - and the poster illustrates this - is the idea of identity. When we decided that identity was the key point in this film, then we figured out the best way to do that, visually, was a monster without a face. When you don't see a face, in that black hole you project your worst nightmare. You imagine unmentionable things.
It's scarier when you project it.
Yeah. I think that it reflects your own emptiness. I think that would be one of my worst nightmares: to wake up in the middle of the night, go to the bathroom, and look in the mirror and discover I don't have a face.
Of course, if you ended up like poster for the movie, you wouldn't have any eyeballs so you wouldn't be able to see that you don't have a face.
[Laughs] It's true!
Why Spain and England for the two settings?
I think that came from the idea that, no matter how far you are from your origins, how you travel around the world, how you change the language of your life, your ghosts are always traveling with you. That's the big difference between the two places; how the ghost is always trespassing time and language. It's something you have to solve; otherwise it will be with you your whole life.
You seem to be drawn towards genre projects: horror, sci-fi, fantasy. What is the allure for you?
I really love the connection between the fantasy or supernatural level, and the human side. I love the stories where there is clearly a link between these two worlds. I especially love stories where the fantasy side is a reflection of a consequence of a human, internal problem: a trauma or dilemma. The humanity as the beginning of the supernatural. That landscape. I [personally] think that most of the supernatural stories we've heard are created by humans. They are creating that supernatural occurrence. Our brain has amazing power, so amazing science can't even tell [yet]. I do believe that parts of our mind are completely unknown and you can create many things that can't be explained rationally.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Have you ever had an encounter with one?
Strange feelings. I wouldn't say an "encounter," but strange feelings, yes. For sure.
Did the kids have any trouble with the dark material?
It's difficult to shoot these kinds of movies with kids. You have to put them in a very difficult place if you want to see some truth. Fortunately, I think they have the ability to quickly forget that. That is the great skill of kids. They get so scared and they are screaming, but then, the next second, they are in another way. We tried to make them comfortable with the situation, but sometimes it was difficult because they were immersed in something scary. But then I would put them in another situation and they immediately forgot [the scary stuff].
So you didn't traumatize them?
No! I was more traumatized than they were!
Can you talk a bit about what you are planning for the Highlander reboot?
It's a project I'm still developing, but it's not ready for me to tell you, "Yes, I am making it and this is what I'm doing for it. It's not for sure. I would love to make it. I think the theme establishes that connection between the supernatural and the human. And another thing I love is immortality as a curse, and how sad an existence it could be if you were immortal.
I know you also have some interest in a BioShock film, but are having some trouble because it is such a massive project. Have you made any headway?
That kind of project is on hold for now. So I am working on other stuff. Highlander is one of them. But I'm always working on fantasy.
Let me confess something to you. My first short film was a black comedy, and sometimes I think I would like to come back to that style and do another black comedy as a kind of relief from the fantasy.
Maybe adapt the short film into a feature?
No, but something connected with that style.
I also read you are working on The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, a remake of the 1960s Roger Corman flick.
Yeah, that was another project I was attached to, but MGM, the production company, I think they are having some financial problems.... so it is another project on hold. But this is the usual way to work in Hollywood.
Is there anything that isn't on hold?
Highlander. That will probably be the next one. But it's not 100% sure.