[Interview] Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo Talks Fears, Faceless Entities, And ‘Intruders’!

28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo returns the silver screen with his first film in over four years, Intruders. The fairly big-budget ($13 million) horror film features an international cast and one bona fide star in actor Clive Owen, however, it has received a fairly lukewarm reception from critics including our very own Mr. Disgusting.

I was able to chat with the Spaniard director during the SXSW Film Festival after the American premiere of Intruders. I came away very impressed by the man, not only for his kind nature, but also for the personal passion he has for his film. BD: There is a definite lack of new mythologies in horror. I really enjoyed that your writers (Nicolas Casariego and Jaime Marques) came up with a brand new idea.

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (JCF): It’s funny because it’s completely created from the nothing — the monster without the face. It came from the idea to make it a very personal story about those secrets and those mysteries that every single family has and how those secrets become a nightmare. As parents we want to protect our kids from the cruelty of the reality and then, by doing that, you don’t notice that you are creating other monsters that are worse than the reality itself. It came from that place. It came from how secrets became a nightmare in my life.

I remember my childhood. Sometimes I remember the atmosphere of my house like a very unsettling thing. I think it came from some story or some things that I consider very important that my parents didn’t tell me and I think it was a mistake. I’m not blaming them because I probably would have done the same, but I think if you want to create a very healthy environment in your house, you have to be transparent with your kids. And you have to push them and to encourage them to see the reality with love. You can do that with love and you can take care of them, but have them facing the reality, not another reality because that reality may show them something you don’t want them to see. That’s probably one of the worst things as a father you can do. So, thinking of that, I thought okay it will be good if we create this kind of resolution, this kind of thought, in a mystery movie, which combines that journey from the fear into the light.

BD: Are you a parent?

JCF: Nope. It’s funny because I’m thinking a lot about it. Because with this movie I think I made a final step in my therapy because when you’re making the movie, I have the feeling, or the obsession maybe, that you have to put something from you in the movie in order to cure yourself, in order to take advantage of the privilege of getting to make a movie. I use this movie as a personal thing for trying to introduce some light into this kind of dark place that I remember from my childhood. Of how I lived in my house with some kind of strange feeling because there was something that nobody could talk about and I needed to explain that in a very poetic way.

BD: Were you ever able to get that answer from your parents as to what that reality was?

JCF: No, it’s impossible because you know something, my father died when I was super young. I was seventeen and my mother is so old right now that I don’t even try to discuss that and the only way to cure that dark spot in your life is, I think the only way to do it is through poetry, whether it is a movie or it is a book. It’s something that you have to create to express yourself and I did in the movie.

BD: It’s like you expunge that feeling from yourself and can finally let it go and move on?

JCF: Exactly. That’s the spirit of this movie.

BD: Was it difficult, the duality of showing Clive Owen’s character as a boy and as an adult? And also you have a Spanish movie and an English movie. Was it difficult for you to keep track of everything?

JCF: It was the most difficult thing doing this because it puts the audience in a very uncomfortable situation which is you’re jumping from one language to another one and you don’t understand why you’re doing that. Especially in the first half of the movie you say what is the connection? Yes, the monster looks similar in both of the stories but it’s not the same. So you’re suffering a lot when you are watching the movie. You have to make the audience work sometimes.

I have the feeling as an audience member you want to see experiences. We don’t want to think too much these days and I’m still fighting against that because I am an audience member as well and I recognize, by myself, for example when I’m tired and I want to forget about everything I put an action-driven movie in without any hesitation and then if I see a drama or something, I say, “no, no, no I don’t want to watch that.” So, it’s true, we are living in a difficult time nowadays and we want to be touched by the experience of something that puts you in another place, in another life. So you don’t want to think too much about your personal stuff.

But I think it’s necessary to keep going and to preserve some part of the industry, in terms of the filmmaking, about movies that push you and provoke you and to make you think about your life and your problems. And I think a good way to do it is with using the genre, because I think the genre is the perfect cloth to introduce complex and difficult ideas. So that’s why I always choose the genre as a drive because I think it helps me to tell stories that if I pitch from the beginning it sounds a little bit crazy. But with the genre you will be able to do it in a very easy way. It’s important to throw ideas out, but it’s important to do it in a very digestive way.

BD: That’s a good point about challenging audiences because so many horror films are about characters with masks and you’ve gone the total opposite direction. Why go with a faceless entity as opposed to a marketable Freddy Krueger doll?

JCF: We wanted to visualize in the monster the main idea of the movie which is “Who is the monster?” We don’t know who he is and the best way to see and experience that is seeing a monster without a face because then you are going to ask, “Who is this guy? Where does he come from? What does he want?” And it puts you in a very difficult situation because that dark hole is probably scarier than any single gesture you could imagine because you are projecting that darkness, your worst fears, and I think it’s very exciting for me.

BD: Was the hooded monster design your design?

JCF: It’s a combination with the writers and the costume designers. I think it was crucial to create a very recognizable and iconic monster who probably comes from the tales (in the film) because the story’s a tale and we need to make it as a monster coming from that place with the new flavor of the monster without an identity and you have to know those questions when you see that “No Face” monster.

BD: Do you think, subconsciously, there’s some tie-in with Middle Eastern garb such as the burka, the covered face?

JCF: It’s interesting you thought of that one.

BD: Especially for American audiences, who are so afraid of not being able to see peoples’ faces.

JCF: It’s so funny how it works. This is what I’m saying about you projecting your fear and right now you are doing that. You are projecting an American fear in the monster, which means that it works. I wouldn’t project that because I’m a Spaniard and for me that’s something I lived around, but I understand for people who are not used to it that it may represent a danger and the enemy. It’s true the darkness is the best place to project your fears.

BD: What other interpretations have people had of the creature?

JCF: I believe in Spain that many people recognize that monster as a very universal fear tat you are waking up in the middle of the night and in your closet there is somebody there hiding and waiting for you and to get you in your sleep.

It’s funny because one of my biggest fears is precisely that one. And playing with this idea in the therapy that I used to do, it was a big revelation to play this technique of the psychologique, which is the psychodrama, which is represented by yourself. The psychiatrist is putting you in the situation and you mentally have to solve the situation. And I remember playing with the idea that somebody was in that dark corner of my bedroom and then the psychiatrist pushed me to go to the corner to see who he was. And I did it and I remember to feel that fear, “Omigod! Omigod! I don’t see his face!” And you know what face I finally saw at that moment? My own face. It was me in the corner.

I think there are many, many fears that are connected with you and with your life and that sometimes you create those monsters and that those monsters belong to you, to your family, to your environment.