March 12, 2011

Ils (2006)

(AKA "Them")

"Lucas and Clementine live peacefully in their isolated country house, but one night they wake up to strange noise... they're not alone... and a group of hooded assailants begin to terrorize them throughout the night."

"Ils" is a French home invasion thriller supposedly based on a true story set in Romania, and it's a good one. I wasn't expecting much from a film with a slightly predictable plot and a running time of only 77 minutes, but when I first watched this four years ago, I got a nice surprise. Having now rewatched it, I still can't find too many flaws though it has obviously been eclipsed in nastiness by "À l'intérieur" and "Martyrs".

The first ten minutes are by far the best and could easily stand alone as a short. It reminded me a bit of the ending of "À Ma Soeur" but without all the sexual nastiness. I found the Romanian language quite intriguing too. You don't often hear a lot of Romanian spoken in horror films (in spite of the location of Transylvania) and, as another romance language, I found it quite easy to understand without subtitles (though of course I still had the subtitles on). It's sort of like French in structure but the words are pronounced differently if that makes any sense. Obviously that's why the main character later is supposed to be a French language teacher. Well, it wouldn't make a lot of sense for a French actress to play an English teacher in a Romanian school, would it?

The rest is a pretty formulaic home invasion story but is shot and acted exceptionally well. Olivia Bonamy (Clementine) is great to look at and, after a short (15 minute) break following the first murders to build up some sympathetic characterisation, the action is real edge-of-your-seat stuff which doesn't let up until the end. I think this even beats "Haute Tension" which I know a lot of people rate very highly.

Suspense is mostly created by the reactions of Clementine and her pretty useless husband Lucas to various bumps and noises as their house is invaded as, until the final 10 minutes, you don't really see or find out who the "them" are. What makes it worse is that it's all very believable.

Some people have said that "Ils" isn't gory. I don't know what film they were watching, but there are lots of blood effects and very realistic woundings. Realism is the key word here. You don't need buckets of fake blood thrown over everything (or a huge budget) to make a scary film anyway, and it's certainly better than "The Strangers" which it pre-dates. Even if the "true story" isn't, it'll still give you something to think about.

I'm giving it 7 out of 10. The film does have a few weaknesses, especially in length and denouement, and you can really only watch it once. The tension will make you think that you've just watched something with an 8 out of 10 rating if you aren't quite so critical as I happen to be. Yes, I still recommend this film.

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