AFI Fest 2020 Review: ‘The Intruder’ is a Nerve-wracking Violation of the Mind

User Rating: 7

When your work-life overwhelms, sometimes the stress comes home with you. It even crawls into bed, manifesting into nightmares that threaten your sense of reality. Such is the case for Inés (Érica Rivas), a voice actor and concert singer who faces additional pressure for an upcoming choral symphony performance. The soprano’s vocal chords haven’t been cooperating of late, and she’s determined to heal before showtime.

Making matters worse is her nagging new boyfriend, Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler), who insists on an impromptu tropical vacation. He’s ready to profess a “forever” love that Inés is not inclined to reciprocate. She reluctantly agrees to the trip but is nowhere near prepared for the horror that comes with Leopoldo’s mood swings.

With her second feature, Argentinian director Natalia Meta concocts one of the most disturbing psychological thrillers since Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning Black Swan. Like Natalie Portman’s Nina, Inés faces mounting pressure from all angles, her womanhood dominated by male influence and the mental instability that comes from it. Furthermore, her identity is being swallowed whole by a dark intruder who makes its presence known during recording sessions. Fellow voice artist Adela (Mirta Busnelli) has some experience with these supernatural entities; she warns Inés that if she’s unable to vanquish the invader in her dreams, it’ll take over her waking form. So much for rest when personal demons are afoot.

Adding to Inés’s trauma is an unexpected visit from her mother (Cecilia Roth), Marta. A grand dame of sly manipulation, she knows which buttons to gently press for maximum frustration. Purring with backhanded compliments and judgment masked as soothing observations, Marta is a pariah who amplifies chaos instead of mitigates it. A frequent favorite of Pedro Almodóvar, the legendary Argentinian actress is a monolith of mood and power, harnessing a domineering onscreen energy. The most nefarious parents in cinema are often ones who measure their words and tone with passivity. Marta’s polite yet direct stabs of meanness mark her as one of them.

Also twisting Inés to his will is Alberto (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a seemingly innocuous organ tuner who jumps into her life when she needs rescuing the most. Even Inés is suspicious of his motives since the timing is all too convenient, though she cannot deny their sexual magnetism. Meta does an excellent job showing a woman’s internal struggle of giving into desire, yet fearful that doing so means forfeiting independence. If only Inés could sleep on the matter without so many external (and interior) forces weighing in on how to proceed.

Érica Rivas delivers a virtuoso performance that is as unsettling as it is enlightening. She accentuates feelings of torment in numerous dreamlike sequences, confounding our sense of what is real or hallucination. Rivas’ final gaze into the camera is so memorable, it will have viewers grinning in manic satisfaction. Even if confounded by plot, motivation, or whether or not occult forces were even involved, The Intruder guarantees hypnotic transfixion. Natalia Meta and Érica Rivas cast a spell of perplexing feminine mystery worth every head-scratch.

The Intruder is part of the “New Auteur” section at AFI Fest 2020.

Written by
Joseph Braverman is a 31-year-old film school alum from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. He considers himself one of the biggest Star Wars fans in the galaxy, living by a golden rule that there is no such thing as a “bad” Star Wars movie. Joseph lives in Los Angeles, CA, and enmeshes himself in all things entertainment, though he’ll occasionally take a break from screen consumption to hike in Malibu or embark on new foodie explorations. Vehemently opposed to genre bias, he feels strongly that any good film is worthy of Oscar consideration. Joseph is also a proud member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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