Intruders is an unsettling new drama from BBC America about immortality, morality and ripping off the aesthetic from those popular Danish crime dramas. I mean, I like a long, lingering shot of an everyday object as much as the next girl who wants to grab a cup of tea without missing anything – but Intruders takes it to the extreme. There is nothing the camera lens won’t stick to, underlining for anyone a bit slow on the uptake that this scene is thematically important.
Either that or the scene has John Simms in it – they are fond of lingering on him sitting, or standing, or doing anything really.
The eponymous Intruders are the Qui Reverti, a secret society dedicated to immortality, which they accomplish by a sort of hijack reincarnation. Their consciousness nests like a cuckoo in the psyche of a normal person until a significant birthday enables them to overwhelm the host consciousness and take control. Or try to anyhow, we see early on that it isn’t always successful.
Simms plays Jack Whelan, a retired cop with a – wait for it – traumatic secret in his past. He is trying to make a new life for himself as a writer in a small town with his wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino). There is only one fly in the ointment – after a significant birthday (she is 30, based on the candles we spend far too much screen time staring at), Amy has disappeared. Jack takes this well. From the evidence at hand they were not – despite being married 10 years – all that close. She had been missing for two days and he hadn’t called the hotel she was staying at, called the law firm she worked for or the police to report her missing. Plus, their dialogue is so alienatingly bad that they seemed like two strangers who had wandered into a house and were each pretending to live there.
Qui Reverti are a bit more lively. One of their top…assassins? activators?…is trying to track down an acoustic engineer who has found out about the Qui Reverti, at the same time as (I think) make sure his old partner Marcus never rouses himself out of his host’s psyche. He kills a lot of people, but then he is played by James Frain so we knew he was a bad guy from the off. It helped that he dresses all in black and was introduced breaking into a teenage girl’s house to be creepy.
There are parts of Intruders where I am intrigued. The concept is interesting – reminding me a little of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – and the cinematography is stunning. The problem is that the whole thing is aggressively slow and obnoxiously oblique.
There are points in the storyline where the narrative offers the opportunity to inform, begs for the opportunity to inform, only for the show to obfuscate the point with what feels like malice aforethought. The writers or showrunners appear to have read a condemnation of exposition somewhere, and taken it to mean that the audience never wants to know anything.
There is a place for decompressed storytelling, but in Intruders it felt like they had packed 15 mins of story into an hour’s worth of TV. Shots ran on a little too long – bypassing discomfiting and wandering into dull, characters were empty shells and the dialogue sounded like it had been written in another language and carefully translated into English by someone who wasn’t a native speaker of either language.
Simms, who was electrifying as the Master in Dr Who and compellingly desperate in Prey, was a vague sketch of a man here. He seemed to have no emotional affect other than mildly confused and mildly irritated. When unable to deploy either of those emotions, he settled on pensive as a sort of default. Villainy is always easier to play, so perhaps Frain had the advantage here – managing to imbue his ice cold killer with hints of a person through moments of irritated condescension and minimised eye rolls of exasperation. He also had the advantage of having a few scenes with Millie Brown, who plays the conflicted and confused Madison/Marcus, a nine year old girl who may also be an ancient assassin (and cat killer, in no non-graphic but genuinely upsetting scene). Brown is a talented young actor who, while not flawless, gives her character a spirited personality and a sense of genuine emotion lacking elsewhere.
As an arty take on a horror/SF trope, Intruders is aesthetically pleasing (and I predict a dream to gif) and takes some interesting risks. They didn’t work for me. I think, despite all my complaints here, that the main flaw is one I haven’t mentioned yet. It is self-conscious. I never lose the sense that it is posing for me, so to speak. It just tried too hard to be…anything, and never quite succeeded.