Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ils (2006)

As I mentioned before in my review of À l'intérieur, it appears that the Europeans have been on a roll when it comes to making sure that the horror genre stays viable.

For once, the French are leading a charge. The resurgance in Euro-horror seems to be primarily fueled by a modern revival of the Grand Guignol, now popularly known as De Nouvelles Brutalités (literally, the New Brutality).

The titles that seem to spring up in discussions of French suspense movies and horror films worth watching include À l'intérieur, Maléfique, Sheitan, Haute Tension (which I wasn't particularly fond of), Calvaire (which I found to be more weird, surreal, and disturbing rather than truly frightening), and of course, Ils.

Ils (English title: Them) is a 2006 film co-directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and featuring Olivia Bonamy and Michaël Cohen.

The film takes place in Romania, where we're introduced to Clementine (Bonamy), a young teacher who has recently relocated from France to a rural area somewhere near Bucharest. Her erstwhile lover and semi-successful novelist, Lucas (Cohen), has come along with her presumably to find inspiration for future material.

One fateful night, Clementine hears noises downstairs and Lucas decides to investigate. A poor choice, as the pair soon discover that their house has been invaded by a group of hooded teens that are interested in more than valuables.

Ils carries the ever misleading "based on true events" tag with it, as does it's apparent US remake, The Strangers.

While it's probably true that it's highly likely that Ils does indeed draw inspiration from several high-profile home invasions (ie. the Tate-LaBianca murders, the murders in Holcomb, Kansas that were the centerpiece of Truman Capote's novel, In Cold Blood), films like these are so visceral that they should be able to stand on their own without such unnecessary gimmicks.

The events in films with such tags only add to the urban legends that surround such occurrences rather than factual accountings, and it distracts from Ils's own worth as a perfectly fine suspense movie.

Ils presses it's finger on your pulse to make sure it is racing through nearly the entire seventy seven minute runtime. Ils also follows proudly in the footsteps of Cronenberg's The Brood, by providing a setting where the most brutal acts imaginable are perpetrated by children.

As adults, we usually assume that children are incapable of such inhumanity, but the truth is that we've probably absolved ourselves of the memory of amoral playground politics.

Even in the best slasher movies, the most menacing dismemberer of teen victims isn't the adult that knows right from wrong and chooses wrong; it is the killer whose mind is trapped inside a child's rudimentary understanding of laws and society and commits murder with no sense of pity or remorse.

The dealing of death is little more than a game of Hide & Seek to them, and they can't be reasoned with or dissuaded from their appointed task.

So far, I am three for three when it comes to enjoyment of the new crop of Euro-horror movies. Here's hoping I can keep the streak alive through Halloween.


Ash said...

I'm really intrigued by your last two reviews, since I love good horror films, but I'm somewhat leery of films that threaten to veer off into pure sadism. Not that I want to come off as moralistic, or anything--I'm in no way against gore (which I love), but I'm put off by films that seem to delight in cruelty.

J.T. said...

I don't think Ils or Inside sets out to be sadistic by design like the Japanese shock movies do. The Red Room and Guinea Pig movies are deliberately vile to the point of being obscene.

I think the French "new brutality" movies are just there to try to "out-terrify" current competition.

When comparing one to another, Them is a relatively bloodless movie next to Inside, which escalates into a friggin Wild West Show once the real dying starts.

Even so, the strange thing about Inside is that even though the violence is over the top, it is still presented in the good, old school slasher movie sorta way.

Instead of going for the "kewl kill" angle, the gruesome deaths in Inside continue to reinforce the fact that you REALLY should be frightened of the villain and what she is capable of.

The truly weird trend in French suspense and horror films appears to be the "scary redneck" movies.

I've yet to see Sheitan or Frontiers, but Calvaire has pretty much guaranteed that I'll never venture outside of Paris into the countryside if I ever find myself visiting France.