Opening today in cinemas across the UAE, Intruders is the latest in a long line of Spanish horror films to have sent chills up and down the spines of audiences for the past decade.
In the tradition of Alejandro Amenábar's The Others and Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage, this fantasy horror concerns two parallel ghost stories: Mia (Ella Purnell) an 11-year-old girl living in London starts having nightmares about a hooded demon known as Hollowface. Meanwhile, in Spain, the same dream is being had by a young boy named Juan (Izán Corchero). In London, the parents (Clive Owen and Carice van Houten) seek out a psychologist, while in Spain, the mother (Pilar López de Ayala) calls on a priest (Daniel Brühl).
What connects the incidents in London and Spain and who the mysterious Hollowface is, are the big questions posed in the director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's latest psychological thriller.
Fresnadillo previously directed the Spanish thriller Intacto and the British horror 28 Weeks Later, so he has the pedigree of directing a story that traverses borders, as well as working in both languages.
It is surprising, then, that in his new film, many of the jumps between London and Madrid feel clunky and forced. The slow-burning drama struggles at points to build tension as it veers towards a genuinely surprising and unexpected twist.
As with his previous efforts, Fresnadillo is more interested in the psychological damage that fear arouses in his characters than producing overtly big scares of the kind that make audiences jump.
At the heart of the film are the British actor Owen and the Dutch superstar van Houten playing a married couple whose relationship is put under strain by their daughter's nightmares.
Van Houten burst into the international limelight with her performance in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book. Many may not know that she is compulsive on Twitter ("I always feel that I have to amuse people when I speak in public") and writes a music column in a Dutch newspaper.
"It's so difficult to concentrate – to write 250 words takes me a week!" she says. "I love music more than I love film. Music is a bigger art. Don't get me wrong – I love film as well."
The 35-year-old also sang on a Haiti benefit record that went to number one in the music charts in her native Holland. "Sometimes I wish I was a male rock star. I think it's cool," she says.
The actress admits she shares some similarities with her on-screen character in Intruders. "I'm quite stubborn," she says. "But I can also be fun and sweet." It is this very combination that makes her so beguiling in the film.
On the other hand there is Owen, who says he was attracted to the film because of the ambiguity of the storyline; the opening scenes playing out like a traditional ghost story. "Or is it?" asks Owen rhetorically when we meet in Toronto. "Intruders is a psychological drama, it's not a cheap-thrill horror. It's a look at how, as adults, we pass on our own fears to our children."
Owen often plays up the small details of characters and leaves melodrama and grandiose gestures to others. In Intruders he plays an architect who simply wants to raise his daughter the best way he can.
The 47-year-old himself has two daughters with his wife Sarah-Jane Fenton, who he met while performing Romeo and Juliet together at the Young Vic Theatre.
Owen says of his choice of roles: "It's always script and director hand-in-hand, and there is absolutely no point in being tempted by a good part in a not-so-great script, or by a good part with a guy you don't think will direct it well."
It's been a busy year for the actor since he came to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year. That journey to the Middle East came about as he was filming the recently released Killer Elite.
Owen is currently working on Hemingway & Gellhorn, a forthcoming HBO film about the lives of the journalist Martha Gellhorn (played by Nicole Kidman) and her husband, the writer Ernest Hemingway (Owen).
"I'm a huge fan of his writing," says Owen of the author. "I took some time off and obviously I read everything. I even went to Cuba and visited his house there." He says of his occupation: "It's a privilege doing what I'm doing, making movies, making a career out of something you love doing. Being able to play and invent like that is just a privilege."