In the 1980s, the world was flooded with cheap-ass teen sex comedies, in the wake of Porky's. Cheap to make and incredibly formulaic, these films about a handful of teenage stereotypes encountering life and naked breasts made tons of money and helped propel the rise of premium cable channels. Until the formula got stale, the umpteenth Porky's knockoff wasn't fun any more, and the subgenre died.
Right now, it feels like we're in the midst of a similar wave of cheap, brainless horror movies. And Intruders, in theaters today, is emblematic of just how boring most horror has gotten. Spoilers ahead...
Sure, there have been waves of horror movies in the past — like the horror-movie glut of the 1970s, or the craze for villains like Freddy and Jason in the 1980s. But still, the current horror glut reminds me more of the post-Porky's sex-comedy boom, for some reason. Maybe just because they're so, so dull and formulaic, and there are so many of them.
People tend to draw a distinction between "found footage" horror, like Paranormal Activity, and regular "invisible camerman" horror, like The Intruders. But in fact, both types of films are the same when you get down to it — made super cheap, without any memorable characters, or an interesting story to tell, or a goddamn memorable monster or real existential threat. Just boring jump scares, flickering shadows, gray weird imagery that suggests something fucked up is going on... and then a horrendous letdown ending. For every inventive horror movie like Last Exorcism, there seem to be a hundred dull, paint-by-numbers outings.
And The Intruders, directed by 28 Weeks Later's Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is exhibit A for bland horror. Here are all the things that The Intruders does that reminds us of Obama-era horror at its most boring:
It's got a contrived setup, with boring tortured characters
In a nutshell, Intruders follows two kids who are both tormented by the same weird menace. One is a tween girl in England, who finds a story about Hollowface and says his name aloud, after which he apparently starts stalking her. The other is a little boy in South America who has nightmares and is convinced that Hollowface is in the shadows, lurking and preparing to steal him away. Eventually, the little girl loses the power to speak because of the monster, and can only communicate by writing stuff down. Oh, and Clive Owen plays the girl's father, with a constant look of incredulity on his face.
And the two children turn out to be linked in an unexpected way. Sadly, all of this focus on terrified children and worried adults never quite becomes really scary, and it certainly never makes for a compelling drama.
It uses boring visual tricks.
They're all in evidence, including the fat gray raindrops, the scary shadows that morph and change, the blurry flashbacks, the dream sequences that might be real, etc. The movie tries to use shadows and trickery to suggest that something scary is lurking — but it never quite gels. And I get what they're trying to do here... they're trying to suggest the way a child's imagination can heighten the scary stuff in the world. It's an attempt to simulate the scary world that kids actually live in. But it doesn't ever quite click, sadly.
There's a derivative monster, who might not be real.
A lot of time is spent on Hollowface and his mythology, which evolves throughout the movie. He's sort of the Candyman meets Jason meets a few other things, and in the end none of it really matters. See below. But we also get long stretches of the movie from Hollowface's POV, which only add to the feeling that none of this really makes sense in the end.
CG effects you've seen a billion times before are trotted out again.
There are Dementors and tentacle porn and inky blood that falls from the ceiling, and weird shapes in the rain, and it all feels like the demo reel of a VFX person who's already swiped a copy of all the software that's been used in every other Hollywood movie.
The ending is a total horrendous letdown.
I won't actually give away the ending, but it's both ridiculous and disappointing — and it never quite makes sense. I feel as though the movie wants to leave some ambiguity as to whether this all just happened in people's heads, but it feels ultra-contrived and honestly silly. And like too many other horror movies I've seen lately, the whole thing becomes just a metaphor for facing your inner trauma and facing down your "demons." Because everything must be therapeutic.
I feel as though the writers of this film had a clever concept in their heads, and then they twisted the characters and the story around to make it work — and the notion that two kids on different continents are tormented by the same horror is a clever one, on the surface. It's just half-baked. And there's also the fact that you never care about any of the people in this film and their struggle to cope with Hollowface.
That was the downfall of teen sex comedies, too — the lack of truly memorable characters or anything like a real character arc that you could latch onto. It would be nice if more horror film-makers built their movies around just one or two really memorable characters, and created a terror that made you fear for this person's survival, as well as wondering how the horror might change this person. Until then, we're just going to be stuck with more gimmicky drek.