The return of a long-lost sister sends the recently widowed brother into a spiral of suspicion in this heavy-handed mystery thriller
Critic and novelist Sohn Won-pyung has pivoted to a life behind the camera and her debut feature is an uneven, but at times intriguing assessment of distrust and the fault-lines that run through family units.
It is a film where you feel a period of warming interest in its developments and are then soon cooled off by a splash of bemusement and indifference.
It does boasts a stellar cast and they all deliver superbly, but the film does not stack up to its creepier and more inventive preview trailer.
Seo-jin (Kim Mu-yeol) is recently widowed and struggling to care for his young daughter (Park Min-ha) while staying ahead of his highly pressurised work as an architect.
The grief of losing his wife is compounded by a determination to find the hit-and-run driver who killed her.
Then a woman called Yu-jin (Song Ji-hyo) arrives claiming to be his long-lost sister, who disappeared 25 years earlier. Despite these reservations, she is welcomed back into the parents’ house, where Yu-jin's career as a nurse is then dedicated to caring for the parents.
Seo-jin is suspicious of Yu-jin's intentions and doubts her true identity, sending him on a determined and dangerous path to expose the real story behind his ‘sister’.
Both Kim Mu-yeol and Song Ji-hyo do a fine job in the opposing lead roles and Song in particular has mastered the art of the sinister glare. There is also a great supporting performance by Ye Su-jeong as their mother, who excelled as the lead in 2019’s An Old Lady.
The film seems to partly attempt to show Seo-jin as being overly paranoid, but there is almost no doubt that Yu-jin has malice intentions. Everything stacks up against Seo-jin slightly too neatly though – his daughter, parents, best friend and even the police all seem to conveniently side with Yu-jin despite her obviously unsettling demeaner and scant evidence of her true identity.
The final act of the film somehow manages to be both surprisingly developed and then instantaneous obvious how it will unfold. This creates a slightly disjoined feel when the thriller elements of the film should be at their most pronounced.
There are strong elements of Parasite (2019) as Yu-jin moves in, makes herself at home and then duly recruits a cohort of acquaintances into various care roles within the household. Though as Sohn is on the record stating that the concept of Intruder has been in the works for eight years, this connection is coincidental.
There is a return to the modern Korean cinema theme of the all-consuming nature of the workplace, as Seo-jin's mobile phone is stormed by work calls demanding his attention.
Sohn also said she set out to make a film that assessed the notion that “families hold the deepest and darkest secrets” and there was plenty that worked on this front. It is a commendable debut feature from Sohn, if a slightly disjoined and implausible outing at times.