Director: Sohn Won-pyung
Cast: Song Ji-hyo, Kim Moo-yul, Ye Soo-jung, Choi Sang-hoon, Park Min-ha-I, Heo Joon-seok
Runtime: 1 hr 42 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Clover Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 23 July 2020
Synopsis: You-jin (Song Ji-hyo) returns home after going missing 25 years ago. As their family gradually begins to change after her return, her older brother Seo-jin (Kim Moo-yul) grows suspicious and seeks to uncover his sister’s secret, which leads him to a shocking truth.
If you’re expecting ‘Intruder’ to be “the most intense Korean mystery thriller of 2020”, you’re likely to be sorely disappointed. Not only is it barely intense, film critic and novelist-turned filmmaker Sohn Won-pyung’s debut is laughably ridiculous, especially in the latter half where it veers into the occult.
The premise is intriguing – a recently widowed architect Seo-jin (Kim Moo-yul), still grieving over the loss of his wife and struggling to be parent to his young daughter (Park Min-ha), is confronted by the return of his sister Yu-jin (Song Ji-hyo). Her return revives Seo-jin’s guilt over Yu-jin’s disappearance 25 years ago, when he had failed to look after her while they were visiting a theme park with their devastated mother.
Unsurprisingly, the woman claiming to be Yu-jin isn’t who she says she is. Not only does she replaces the family’s loyal caretaker with her own manservant, Yu-jin slowly places both Seo-jin’s parents under her spell, even as Seo-jin grows increasingly suspicious of her identity and intentions.
To her credit, Sohn does a decent job building up the suspense at the start, unveiling the cracks in Yu-jin’s façade gradually through a mysterious tattoo at the back of her neck and an unexpected encounter with a former acquaintance, as well as Seo-jin’s unsteady mental state through a string of incoherent dreams and angry outbursts. There is also a nice metaphorical twist in line with the film’s title, as Yu-jin slowly displaces Seo-jin as the intruder within the household.
But the plotting soon comes apart with one too many ludicrous turns, mostly to do with the occult, as it tries to dig deeper into just who Yu-jin is and what she wants with the family. There is suddenly a sinister presence at every corner, watching and waiting to thwart Seo-jin’s attempt to unmask her. Worse, the last third of the film sees it overreaching to the point of going off the rails, especially as it tries to tie the events of Yu-jin’s appearance and Seo-jin’s wife’s death together.
It doesn’t help that Seo-jin’s behaviour is illogically erratic, so much so that you feel less sympathy than annoyance at his plight. Ditto the rest of the supporting characters, including a police detective investigating Seo-jin’s wife’s death who ends up being frustratingly gullible and a psychologist whom Seo-jin sees that is probably one of the most utterly unconvincing practitioners we’ve seen. In turn, Kim seems lost trying to get a grip at what Seo-jin ought to be like, while Song’s performance gets more and more excessively theatrical.
We’d like to embrace ‘Intruder’ a lot more, but in trying to be smarter than its audience, the movie ends up being a lot sillier. What is a decent set-up is eventually squandered in implausible revelations that are contrived at best and cringe-inducing at worst, leading up to an unsatisfactory finish which is strangely anticlimactic. ‘Intruder’ has gotten some buzz for being the first commercial release in South Korea following the reopening of cinemas there, but that is probably the only distinction this poorly conceived thriller is ultimately worthy of.
(Too many ludicruous turns squander an otherwise decently intriguing set-up for a home invasion thriller, so don't go in expecting "the most intense Korean mystery thriller of 2020")
Review by Gabriel Chong