Intruders Review

A clever Korean comedy/thriller that cries out for more stylish foreign-language remake.

An anticipated solo writer’s retreat turns into a rapidly escalating nightmare with plenty of uninvited guests in Noh Young-seok’s “Intruders,” a clever black comedy/thriller with a fine late twist that’s the one untranslatably local thing in a script otherwise practically begging for foreign-language remake. Perhaps they’ll up the stylistic bar; while engaging throughout, the material here would have been better served by a directorial approach in the controlled-hysteria mode that heightened similarly grotesque pileups of misfortune in films like the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple” and “Fargo.” By contrast, this rather plainly crafted original looks destined for primarily home-format offshore sales.

Using a friend’s remote cabin to finish a screenplay he’s working on, affable, ordinary Sang-jin (Jun Suk-Ho) sees his trip start to go awry before he even crosses the threshold, notably acquiring a local ex-con, Hak-Soo (Oh Tae-kyung), as his pesky new “friend” on the regional bus line. After settling in, he goes for a walk in the snowy surrounding woods, only to have a run-in with hostile poachers. Then the place is invaded by four obnoxious weekend skiers who bully their way into renting one of the other cabins owned by Sang-jin’s absent host.

Our hero eventually discovers a dead body, then another. When he tries to call the police, he’s instead mistaken for the likely perpetrator of some crime or another. Reversals of fortune come faster as the body count rises, the cause of which arrives as a late surprise (albeit one foreshadowed by some seemingly irrelevant prior information).

The violence is either downplayed or shown in desultory fashion, while the early going and indoor sequences have a bland look (Park Jae-in’s outdoor lensing grows much more atmospheric at night, however). “Intruders” doesn’t drum up nearly as much tension as its situations ought to create, and though the performances are solid enough, in other hands some roles might have been truly memorable. Still, the shortcomings of execution here don’t fail the story so much as fall short of the film’s macabrely humorous potential. As a result, it’s an above-average little thriller rather than a near-great one.

Pacing could be tightened a notch; the otherwise modest assembly is fine if undistinguished.

Film Review: 'Intruders'

Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, Feb. 2, 2014. (Also in Rotterdam Film Festival; 2013 Toronto, Busan film festivals.) Running time: 99 MIN. Original title: "Jo nan-ja-deul"

Production

(South Korea) A Finecut and CJ Entertainment presentation of a Stonework production. (International sales: Finecut, Seoul.) Produced by Choi Sun-hee, Noh Young-seok. Executive producers, Jay Gil, Jeong Tae-sung.

Crew

Directed, written by Noh Young-seok. Camera (color, HD), Park Jae-in; editor, Park Soo-dan; music, Noh; production designer, Lee Si-hoon; sound, Kim Bong-soo; sound designer, Lee Ki-jun.

With

Jun Suk-ho, Oh Tae-kyung, Choi Moo-sung.

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