ils (Them) Review
Continuing away from the New Brutalism infesting French (and, almost by default due to funding & distribution, European) art house cinema, plowing a more populist furrow in the manner of Haute Tension aka Switchblade Romance, writer-directors Moreau & Palud provide us with an exercise in pure terror that only fails, perhaps, with the more jaded among us.
Teaching at the French School in Bucharest, Clementine and her partner Lucas are menaced one night at their large house outside town. The theft of her car from outside their house leads them to ring the police, who cannot help her due to their recent immigration status. From then on, the night becomes a nightmare game that escalates in terror as the couple are besieged – but by who, or what?
A superb exercise in pure terror, combining classic motifs – the isolated house in the forest, strange noises, intense natural darkness contrasted with bare electric lights – with modern concerns – loss of transport, loss of phone, loss of power, hoodie & combats-wearing figures in the night – to intense effect. The film is not unlike the original Halloween, in that Carpenter’s classical thriller was also perfectly pitched to terrify with few resources and smart use of cinematic technique. Both films play on suburban middle-class fears, both follow plucky young women with jobs dealing with youth, both employ the cinematic techniques du jour (steadicam glides in Halloween, hand-held faux-documentary style in ils), very few people actually die onscreen, and both have solid twists in the tale. All in all, it makes a solid case for the ambitions of this French writer-director team (Moreau’s second feature, Palud’s first) to create as terrifying a feature as possible on a limited budget, and the trust placed in them by producer Richard Grandpierre (Irreversible, Le Pacte Des Loups aka Brotherhood of the Wolf) to pull it off.
I highly recommend to others not to discuss the ending with those who have yet to see the film, not because Metrodome don’t want you to, but because it is one of those twist endings that will either make or break the film for the viewer. For this experienced film buff, it has to be said that I figured out quite early on in the film what the ending would be, much as I did with The Blair Witch Project, but only because I put together the motifs described above and realised where those should logically lead (for the record, I figured out early on that The Blair Witch Project was borrowing Cannibal Holocaust’s narrative device, but the ending still gave me a jump when it happened). That did not detract from my appreciation of the rest of the film, but also, when one is that aware of cinematic technique in use, it can lead to a certain amount of impatience – I did feel that some scenes, despite the hand-held work and fairly rapid editing, still ran a little too long, prolonging tension where there was only that tension that already existed, with no more to be created. This is, however, a minor flaw, and one I am more than willing to admit that many potential viewers of the film will never notice. I do hope the film finds an audience outside of the art house crowd, i.e. those willing to read subtitles, as I think it ought to be seen by many settling for the rubbish Hollywood is calling horror still. Sadly, it will probably have to be remade before it does, at which point it will lose precisely what makes it interesting, so go and see it now before that happens. Ironically, the writer-directors are now in pre-production on the U.S. remake of The Eye, so maybe they will join that select band of foreign filmmakers who remake their own film in the U.S. – or maybe ils was always a calling card to Hollywood, and we should appreciate it now in the face of what are sure to be more compromised projects in the future.
ils will be released as Them in UK cinemas on 26th January 2007 by Metrodome.