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Juan Carlos Fresnadillo • Director

“I like films that challenge viewers”


- A game of parallel clues, shooting in two languages, and a passion for the psychological mechanisms of fantasy: the Spanish director talks about Intruders.

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo • Director

After being shown at the Toronto and San Sebastian festivals, Intruders is now hitting movie screens. This is the third feature (after Intact and 28 Weeks Later [+see also:
film profile
) by the Canary Island-born director (44), who divides his work time between Europe and the US.

Cineuropa: How did the Intruders [+see also:
film review
interview: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
film profile
project come into being?

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: It came up in a conversation with the film’s producers: Enrique López-Lavigne and Belén Atienza. During that chat, we delved into the origin of fear and looked at where certain fears that start in childhood come from. During that search, the story occurred to us of two families with a disturbing ghost which bursts into their homes, pushing them to their limit, questioning their identity and forcing them to look into their past because, somehow or other, they themselves have a lot to do with that presence appearing in their homes.

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But you left the screenplay to others...
Yes, it was written by Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marqués, who have a lot of experience as a writer and filmmaker, respectively, and whom I admire and respect very much. Why, on this occasion, did I decide to stay out of the screenwriting? Because the plot is very complex, with two stories that intertwine, split apart and come together again. And if I was involved in the writing I ran the risk of focusing too much on one element at the expense of another. I thought it was a better idea, for this story that is so ambitious from a dramatic point of view, to be a bit more distanced and be able to have a more all-embracing vision.

Moreover, when you write, you fall in love with every line and it wasn’t possible to fall in love with this story: we had to be shaping it all the time and you have to have the courage and the detachment to be able to change and alter all that you love. Moreover, we had to flesh out this highly cerebral story. And how do we do this in the most visceral way possible? Through the actors: with them, I had to manage to create a world that was very real and tangible. This was my thinking: if I get involved in the screenplay and I’m face to face with the actors, I’ll try to make the actors follow that screenplay. Big mistake. By being distanced, I formed a team with the actors: I was more on their side, we took the screenplay and moulded it to our suiting. There was no fear then of changing dialogues, altering a situation, of making up another... For that reason, to give it physicality, I needed to be distanced from the screenplay.

How long did each of these stages take?
The screenplay took almost a year and the editing took about six or seven months. This involved putting together and achieving the right rhythm in the film, so that it moves from one country to another in a natural way and clues are planted throughout the story, which explode when the ending arrives... There are viewers who unravel the mystery, thanks to some of those clues, but 70% of people don’t do so until the end: it’s amazing. At times I thought "They’re going to figure out everything!", but no.

Aren’t you afraid they’ll catch on to your “trick”?
No, I think that in this film, as the scenario is so suggestive, although you have an inkling of the real conflict, you stay very alert and active through wanting to discover who the monster is. You’re encouraged to get involved even when you discover the connections between the two stories.

So you like movie theatre audiences to "work" and not be passive?
Yes, in Intact the same thing happened. I like stories that connect with reality in the sense that in life not everything is pre-prepared either: we have to be on our toes all the time. I like to do things that way: go to a movie theatre to see films that challenge and push me, because that creates an interesting and stimulating symbiotic relationship with what you’re watching.

Was it complicated shooting in two countries, with two languages and two different teams?
Due to schedule issues, I had to shoot the English part first and then the Spanish part; which wasn’t a bad thing, because I think it’s good, when you start a shoot, to tackle the hardest part. In this case, for logistical reasons, it was the English part, with more location shots. As we had a more or less ample budget, we built all the interiors, both the English ones and the Spanish, here in Madrid. This made it straightforward from a production point of view.

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