“The Intruder” is a “Gaslight” for the ’90s, with a jaunt along the space-time continuum thrown in for good measure. Director David Bailey, the vet photog, keeps viewers guessing throughout pic’s well-groomed progression but is ultimately too goofy to make much of a mark theatrically. Anchored by an impressive central perf from Charlotte Gainsbourg, this is a fine item for fests and all permutations of the small screen.
In an unspecified, snow-covered city in North America — pic was shot in Montreal — Frenchwoman Catherine Girard (Charlotte Gainsbourg) confesses to police that, mere hours ago, she killed her husband’s previous wife, Stella. The police aren’t convinced: As far as they’re concerned, Stella was shot two years prior by an unknown assailant.
A long flashback then makes up the body of pic. In a flawless English voiceover, Catherine tells how, when she arrived from Europe, she had no friends , having left everything behind. One night, she meets soundtrack composer Nick Girard (Charles Powell) at a gallery opening, and in no time they’re wed and she moves into his gorgeous loft-apartment. Nick doesn’t talk about Stella, but Catherine learns she was found dead clutching a large pair of scissors amid signs of a fierce struggle.
Other tenants in the building aren’t related, but could be the MacGuffin family. Chic, enigmatic Badge Muller (Nastassja Kinski), a savvy art broker “from an old German banking family,” lives downstairs. Charlie (John Hannah), a math whiz who made a fortune designing computer games, is upstairs. Daisy (Molly Parker), who drinks too much and walks with a cane, rounds out the Girards’ intimate circle.
Despite its cutting-edge decor, the building is old, with a sinister handyman and electricity that often fails, requiring the use of candles and flashlights. Catherine starts noticing strange things around the house — a glass of wine with tell-tale lipstick, a brush with strands of someone else’s hair, a crooked painting, an unexplained reflection and, finally, a diary with the initials “SG.”
Gainsbourg does an excellent job of maintaining an even keel as clues and intimations threaten her sanity. She even manages convincingly to deliver lines like “I feel some kind of hatred in the air — sometimes it presses in on me like a fog.” Other primary players are just fine, although the tangential supporting cast seems to hail from Hams R Us.
Lensing by Robert Altman regular Jean Lepine accommodates lots of snow flurries and makes the spooky building a character in its own right. Ill-advisedly, a scruffy saxophonist playing plaintive riffs in the street is used as punctuation between scenes; but the rest of the ominous score fits the bill.