When Netflix’s Intrusion drops today, you’ll recognize the taut, domestic terror atmosphere director Adam Salky created for the film. The film has antecedents in the 1990s-era thrillers he grew up on like Basic Instinct, Se7en, and Jagged Edge. They’re not direct references, of course, but he leveraged those points of inspiration to blend with his own love for personal filmmaking to make the film based on Chris Sparling’s screenplay.
“To me, it had to be a personal genre film, and when I read the script, the journey of the Meera character played by Frieda Pinto as a cancer survivor really resonated with me,” Salky explained. “My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at around the same age as the Meera character. So, I’ve had a lot of intimate experience with what it’s like for someone to go through that and that’s what really drew me to the film.”
Starring Pinto and Logan Marshall-Greene, Intrusion is a fun thrill ride that engages the audience with both emotion and lingering tension. Pinto and Marshall-Green play wife and husband Meera and Henry who live in isolation in the New Mexico desert. Their idyllic and peaceful lifestyle becomes interrupted by a series of home invasions that ultimately reveal unseen truths about their relationship.
To say that their home – a gorgeous modern estate – is a character in the film feels like a cliche, but it rings true here. The building heavily features tall glass windows that open out into the empty desert night — one in which an intruder could be watching at any moment.
But perfectly suited house was not built specifically for the film.
“The architectural style of Albuquerque is, for the most part, called Pueblo Revival, which actually I love. But it wasn’t the style that I was hoping for the film because Henry (Marshall-Green) works in a very specific, detail-oriented architecture. We were having trouble finding the right house until the cinematographer Eric Lin went to the grip rental house, and he was chatting with the owner whose friend owned a modern house. Two hours later, we were speeding there in the locations van going to check it out. When we got there, it was pretty clear that this was the one. The house is 10,000 square feet, and our production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly really did an incredible job taking what was there and turning it into this specific couple’s home.”
Filming Intrusion, even in the perfect home, was not an easy experience for Salky and team. They were heavily impacted by this little thing called COVID-19. Intrusion was actually, during filming in the fall of 2020, one of around a dozen films in active production in the United States. The tension and suspense of the pre-vaccine filming environment accentuated the atmosphere of the film itself.
As an actor’s director, Salky needed to find ways to work with his actors while maintaining respectful and safe distances due to on-set health protocols. The actors did use research time to build their characters and lay the groundwork for their on-screen relationships, but Salky’s on-set practices usually involve working through performances with actors in private, personal spaces. That had to change during COVID-19.
“There were a lot of instances where we couldn’t do that because only a certain number of people were allowed in certain spaces. So I had to actually direct by walkie talkie, and I felt almost like at times like a director from the 1940s with a bullhorn or something like that,” Salky laughed. “It’s not my style. It’s not how I would like to direct, but Freida and Logan were just so completely in it and giving. They never let that kind of public necessity interfere with the private lives of the characters that we were creating.”
When he’s not directing films like Intrusion or I Smile Back (which garnered Sarah Silverman a SAG nomination), Salky spends time working with the next generation of directors in the Directing Discipline at The American Film Institute Conservatory. He has also served as an advisor at the Sundance Labs and taught directing at USC’s Graduate School of Cinematic Arts.
That continued interaction with students helps keeps his directorial skills honed as a filmmaker.
“I’m passionate about making films and also passionate about teaching aspiring professionals. It’s been incredibly rewarding to share with students the things that I’ve learned along the way. To help them have their voices heard. But I also learn from them. One of the incredible things of running the Directing Discipline at the AFI Conservatory is tha the fellows are just so incredibly inspiring. They’re from all over the world. It’s an incredibly diverse group, and they are constantly opening my eyes to new ways of thinking about film. When you help film students make films — sometimes dozens of films in a semester — that also keeps you sharp as a filmmaker.”