If one of these franchises Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is attached to gets going, he’ll be one of the new directors to watch. He’s left The Crow reboot but is currently attached to Highlander. The Spanish director of Intacto got his Hollywood break when Danny Boyle hired him to do his sequel, 28 Weeks Later. Intruders, which played both Sundance and South by Southwest, is a family drama masquerading as a horror movie, opens this Friday, March 30. A father (Clive Owen) tries to protect his daughter from a man who breaks into her room. The intruder turns out to be Hollowface, a creature whose hood covers only a vacant hole, and is also plaguing a Spanish family in a parallel story. Chatting with Fresnadillo in Austin on a misty day at SXSW, he said the secrets both these families are keeping are even scarier than Hollowface.
Crave Online: Had you always wanted to create a new monster mythology for horror movies?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: You know something funny, I think this movie doesn’t belong to the horror label. I think it’s funny to say that because you’re dealing with a monster in a movie and then apparently the straight thing to think is okay, this is a horror movie. But I think it’s a monster movie for another reason, which is portraying some kind of disturbing, unsettling family situation. I think it’s more about that. Sometimes in family there is a tendency to hide and protect the kids, not telling them the important things, or the dark things. We’re always trying to protect our kids from the dark things and I think at the end of the day, that’s a terrible attitude because those secrets in the dark corner of your mind are worse than the reality itself. I felt that when I was a kid. My mother and my father didn’t tell me many important things, probably so dark and so tough but those secrets then became a really immense and huge nightmare and trauma in my life, because of that. Because it was hidden.
After several thousand years of human history, why do people still think keeping secrets and telling kids stories is a better idea than the truth?
That’s why I needed to explore that in Intruders and to show and share with the audience that sometimes it’s a mistake. I think the best way to deal with kids with some problems is to tell them what happened with love. If for example the Spanish woman tells the story to the kid with love and she tries to explain who this guy was, I think that boy probably would be raised without any problems. The problem is if you try to hide that part of the reality. I think it’s important not to hide important things from kids, considering that those things sometimes are so terrible or dark, because it becomes worse. Then as an adult you pass those fears to the next generation. When we were developing the story I explored in my family and myself and discovered my mother has the same fears as me. Why? It’s so easy. You pass your fears into the next generation. That’s why it’s very important to face your fears and you have to overcome those fears in order to avoid that transmission to the next generation. I think that’s the crucial thing in Intruders, the passing, the transmission, the legacy of fear.
Are movies a way kids can face those fears?
I think so. I think so. Definitely. I don’t believe in that kind of protection to the kids. I think it’s a big mistake because you’re creating weak people. You’re creating people who don’t have enough tools to deal with dark things and dark places. That’s why you have to lead with love. You have to put them in that difficult situation or that difficult revelation with love. If you do that I think the people are going to be healthy.
That said, do you hope to see Hollowface costumes at Halloween time?
That would be a nice image. It would be fantastic. On some levels, it’s like a very iconic thing to market. Obviously we create a costume and we create some kind of special stereotypical monster but I was more keen to show the audience the idea of a monster without identity and how identity is one of the biggest fears in human beings. Sometimes more than sexuality or death as the big forces in a human being. We’re always trying to have identity in everything we make and everything we have, in every single communication we’re having with anyone. We’re always trying to look for our identity in that interchange. In this particular case identity becomes a very interesting theme if we apply that to the monster, a monster which is a dark guy with that identity. I think it gives the audience a strange feeling, a disturbing feeling because you don’t know who you are and you don’t know who this guy is as well.
I’m very glad you’re doing the new Highlander because I have many questions about Highlander that five movies and a TV series still haven’t answered for me.
[Laughs] I hope to answer them. I don't know if we’re going to answer many but I hope to answer [some]. But you know something, Highlander is a fantastic project but the reality is we’re still in development. I hope to make it.
As a fellow Highlander geek, I’ve always wondered if you can only kill them but cutting off their heads, what if you slice one down the middle? Would each half of them live until the neck halves are severed?
That’s a very interesting question. Maybe the organs regrow. You know, we are still developing the screenplay and it’s a project I really love and I hope to make it, but the reality right now is I’m promoting Intruders. Let’s see what happens with Highlander.
But one of the great things about that series is each sequel tried to make sense of it and really only made it worse. Is part of your development a chance to get it right the first time?
Yeah. It’s part of the development, yeah, absolutely.
But you were connected with The Crow also and even had Bradley Cooper attached. Should they just let that franchise go?
You know, it was strange because I was interested in the project and then Bradley Cooper was interested as well. We had a conversation, we had a very good chemistry but because of problems with Bradley’s agenda and because of problems with my agenda, it didn’t work in spite of the fact that we were huge fans of the project. These are the kinds of things that happen sometimes. You’re developing a project and then the schedules aren’t working.
I just wonder if the tragic history of the original means they should just stop trying to make them. Just put this one franchise aside and let it be.
It’s another option but putting aside that tragic thing, I think the story is a very powerful story and I understand why a studio, why Hollywood wants to make some kind of reboot of that. On many levels it is a very iconic figure in the dark heroes of the history of cinema.
What were your horror influences growing up?
In terms of horror, I’m always a huge fan of the psychological side of horror movies. For example I remember when I was a kid, I was completely impressed and I’m still impressed with The Exorcist. Specifically about the psychological suffering that the movie is telling you. I remember a fantastic sequence when the devil is speaking like the mother of the priest and then he feels guilt to see his mother through the voice of the devil. It is a very disturbing thing because then the devil was taking advantage of your guilt and using your guilt as a way to attack. I thought it was a fantastic way to deal with the devil in that way. So I always really enjoyed and was a very intense fan when horror is dealing with a psychological thing which is connected at the end of the day with the human side. I really love the stories of fantasy, the supernatural, the horror movies. That kind of genre, if in that scenario there is a human shadow on it, I’m in. I really love the human side of The Exorcist because it’s showing what’s going on in your mind. Or in The Shining the idea about this guy trying to protect this family and then he becomes the monster of the family. I really love that, the human side in these kinds of supernatural horror stories.
Stylistically, how do you build mood and atmosphere?
It depends on the story. I thought that Intruders, which for me is more of a mystery movie than a horror movie, was demanding a different rhythm, a very slow pace in order to be hypnotized by the story and in order to travel and make a journey through different times and different families. That’s why it was important to maintain that special and slow pace. Otherwise I think it would be crazy and a big mess. Something I checked when we were editing, if we increased the speed of the rhythm, then everything becomes a disaster because the intention of this rhythm is creating this hypnosis in order to drug you into this kind of unsettling world because the mystery is the main goal of the movie.
I always wonder why people slowly creep up to the closed door with the shadows. I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to just run up to it and check it out.
[Laughs] I really love that moment when you’re walking towards that thing that is going to scare you, because then there are many thoughts in your brain which are defining yourself and defining your personality. That’s why I said this movie’s about that moment that you’re waking up in the middle of the night, you hear a noise coming from the kitchen and that journey from your room to the kitchen is an amazing journey because your brain is thinking and pondering many possibilities about the origin of that noise. I really love that moment of the human being facing the fear because it shows all the qualities and all the holes and all the complexities of human beings.
Does having Clive Owen in the lead help get the movie made?
Yes, for sure. His collaboration I think was crucial. In the production side but as well in terms of making the story more believable because I think he represents very well the iconic figure of the hero and the very white and clean father. I love to put him in that position and then little by little degrade that image and that personality into a very scared boy, some boy who’s hiding in the corner because there’s a big fear just in front of him. I thought it was important to do it with him because I think it’s more interesting to see the journey of somebody who is a very strong person and then discover and reveal the boy behind that man.
Was his wife, Carice van Houten, a tougher role to cast?
The idea with this character always was to play with the stepmother, some kind of stepmother which is some kind of intruder in the relationship between father and daughter. That’s why the idea to introduce a different nationality in that person, a different accent and some kind of competition with the daughter. Because the idea of Intruders is not only attached to the idea of the monster, this danger entering the house. It’s attached as well to how we feel intruders in our life no matter how close we are with these people. You feel that some members of your family maybe are more intruders than anyone. Yes, I think that was the concept and that was the idea to do it with Carice.
Is there any follow up to 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later in the works?
I heard many stories about that including that Danny Boyle wanted to make that, but lately I don't know what’s going on. I don't know what is happening about that.
Would you be involved?
I didn’t receive any invitation but if I receive it, I think it is a landscape that I really enjoyed and I really explored. I feel that it doesn’t make any sense to come back again to that. I think it’s something that I’ve done and it was really intense. It was a very physical movie for me and that’s all. I think it’s very important to refresh the blood of the movie and introduce a new vision.