Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Film Appreciation - You'll Never Feel Safe In Your Home Again

Cody Hamman sneaks in some Film Appreciation for the 2006 French-Romanian film Ils, a.k.a. Them.

When I went to see director Bryan Bertino's film The Strangers in the spring of 2008, I was accompanied by my nephew, who had attended a theatrical horror marathon with me the previous October. One of the films shown at that marathon was Ils, a.k.a. Them, a French-Romanian production from directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud. Ils and The Strangers are so similar that my nephew walked out of Bertino's film thinking that it was a remake of that French movie we had seen months earlier. I had to let him know that wasn't the case, the movies aren't actually connected, Bertino and Moreau / Palud just happened to make a pair of films that are very much alike.

Ils centers on Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michaël Cohen), a French couple who are living in a large old house in rural Snagov, Romania, about 45 minutes outside of Bucharest, while Clémentine teaches in the city. As the couple settles in for the night, we know they're not going to be getting any rest - the opening sequence in which a mother and daughter are killed by unseen assailants while driving down a remote country road has tipped us off to the fact that Clémentine and Lucas are in danger. On her way home from work, Clémentine passed the mother and daughter's seemingly abandoned vehicle as it was being towed away. Those murders happened not far from the couple's house.

After an unsettling evening of strange noises and phone calls, Clémentine and Lucas realize around 2am - and that's about 30 minutes into the movie - that there are intruders on their property. They're messing with Clémentine's car. And they're breaking into the house.

From that point on, the film is about the couple's desperate struggle to survive the night while bloodthirsty assailants relentlessly pursue them and play cat and mouse games with them. We don't see their attackers for a long time, but when we do get a good look at who the homicidal maniacs are it's a great and shocking surprise.

Ils / Them is one of those horror films that tries to draw more attention to itself by claiming to be based on true events. Although I'm sure similar horrific things have happened, the film's story doesn't actually tell the cold hard facts of any one case. True or not, the story is very creepy and even comes with its own memorable quote along the lines of The Strangers' "Because you were home." Here it's "We just want to play!"

This film is so effectively creepy, chilling, and suspenseful that I was thinking while watching it during that marathon viewing that David Moreau and Xavier Palud could be given the helm of the next Halloween film; that these two could return slasher Michael Myers to his scary John Carpenter roots. It's the same thing I was thinking about Bryan Bertino while watching The Strangers the next year. "Who should direct Halloween?" was so prominent in my thoughts at that time because Rob Zombie's Halloween remake had just come out then, and Zombie's approach to the material hadn't been received with overwhelming positivity. In my eyes, Moreau / Palud and Bertino were great hopes. Directors who could turn the Halloween franchise around.

None of them have directed a Halloween movie to date. Instead of the Halloween remake, Moreau / Palud ended up directing a remake of the Asian horror film The Eye. That remake starred Jessica Alba and was not popular. It marked the end of the directors' career as a duo and they haven't reached the heights I imagined for them while watching Ils / Them the first time. It's a shame, because they did a fantastic job with this film.

Running just under 77 minutes, Ils / Them is a quick watch and a great film to put on when you want to experience some cinematic tension and scares. Almost ten years after my first viewing of it, I'm still revisiting it from time to time, and will continue doing so. It's a horror film that I believe deserves a spot in the viewing rotations of genre fans.

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