Erica Riva plays a traumatised woman drowning in the sound of her own nightmares in this De Palma-esque thriller.
The Intruder is an unnerving Argentine thriller from Natalia Meta, that sets out to explore how PTSD can manifest itself in the wake of horrific events.
Erica Riva plays Inès, a fortysomething woman who relies on her voice for work: she’s a voice actress for foreign film audio dubbing, as well as a soprano in her local choir. But after a traumatising, unexplained event, she begins to think that people in her nightmares are trying to take control of her body: physicalized by a barely-there electromagnetic hum emanating from her voicebox.
Although her life revolves around sound, it soon becomes disquieting. Alberto (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, known for his heartbreaking turn in 120 Beats Per Minute) is a perplexing organist with shady motives; her sound engineer is a man with an unclear link to the real world; her mother is in two places at once, in the room ironing while ringing her on the phone. Projections, microphones, TV’s, telephones and speakers become sordid trinkets in her oscillating grip on reality. There’s certainly an intriguing, corporeal link made between the way our bodies function, pulsing blood around the body, and the reverberation of sound, with her trauma manifesting itself in her body and reverberating this fear as an ongoing aural nightmare.
People continually tell her that she “must be dreaming,” creating a perturbing atmosphere where the protagonist doesn’t know if she is having a schizophrenic meltdown or is being gaslit. Audiences may feel frustrated at the open-ended dream sequences in The Intruder; perhaps it would have been wise to choose between a truly disquieting experience in which we experience exactly what Erica feels or to opt for a more comedic melodrama, which The Intruder did veer towards at times.
It’s a theme that has the potential to be trite: a woman not knowing if she is dreaming or not, losing her grip on reality. But Meta succeeds in making this done-before concept deeply distressing. The ending is particularly successful: a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it insidious takeover of Erica’s body, in which she becomes almost a fearsome, wild-haired Medea, with her writhing fellow choir singers a fearsome Greek chorus.
The film is handsomely shot, thankfully avoiding the hackneyed Venetian-blind-style of thriller and opting for enigmatic electric blue accents. Loyal to the film’s plot, the sound design is impeccably done: things go bump in the night, odd, unexplained high pitched noises float in and out of scenes uninvited, demonic gurgles escape from characters’ lips. The psychological torment soundtracked to eerie choral music feels quite The Double Life of Veronique, while there are De Palma references aplenty: the audio dubbing aspect is undeniably reminiscent of Blow Out, while many scenes may remind you of Passion.
However, there’s a sense that some scenes aren’t really adding anything to the atmosphere, particularly with an odd first half-hour which gets rid of one character in what feels like a rather improbable fashion. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart delivers a lithe, commanding performance but feels underused; Riva is excellent as Inès, drawing us into the claustrophobic singularity of her fears.
Despite leaning into lesser versions of tropes we know well from this genre, The Intruder successfully constructs a multimedia nightmare where audio and visual trickery lead us into a labyrinth of fear.
Words by Steph Green
Other reviews from the London Film Festival can be found here.
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