Ils (Them)

Ils is the 2006 French horror film starring Olivia Bonamy & Michaël Cohen. Written and directed by David Moreau & Xavier Palud.

Given how “based on” films are often the telltale signifiers of the dearth of original material to glean a full feature from, Ils is far from the usual fare. One could argue Ils’ writers sought to possibly curb that notion by the relative fleetness of duration. An hour and thirteen minutes to be precise. That is an assumption, that the writers shifted their efforts from, for example, adherence to fact to making it work with less. That’s one thing. Secondly, and although it is essentially a home invasion horror, it keeps its cards very close to the chest for as long as possible, which for a lean run time comes with the risk of either front- or backloading its story. Opening with a tense eight-minute scene packing in stop-and-go, pull and tug action (action as in the antonym of speech), it flies fast. In one fell swoop a good chunk of time is knocked out and the film starts to pick up at the half-hour mark, more or less the halfway point of the film. That makes it a tale of two halves pacing wise; its front and back. It is a unique and subtle structure possibly indiscernible for viewers more used to the three-act flow. And it works. Effectively.

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The title cards concern events from one October night, and the following day. Though far from an examination of an aftermath and more a continuation of what is witnessed in the introductory scenes, we get the deep plunge into how the unsuspecting gets pranked, preyed on, and terrorized in a reimagining of those true events alluded to in those title cards. The setting is the outskirts of Romania’s capital, Bucharest, where French citizens Clementine and her work-from-home writer beau (Lucas) have relocated. They live in a secluded manor in the woods, a stone’s throw from where the opening sequence took place.

When I looked up Ils to download it I mistakenly kept harking back to The Others, the supernatural horror featuring Nicole Kidman and her house-bound family. Them. The Others. You get the idea. What’s in a name? Profoundly a lot. Too much, it seems. It gives rise to putting in enough due diligence, the right amount without jeopardizing the viewing experience. I had already mentioned how Ils is a home invasion. However I did not come to that conclusion until after I dispelled all other possibilities. Chief among those is my assuming it a paranormal flick, which was played into by a name similar to one in that subgenre. It’s stirred a unique impression, one I was content in allowing the film to patiently chip away at to reveal its true self. The film was good in keeping ambiguous the antagonists’ identities, but it wasn’t until the scene in the attic that it was obvious beyond doubt that those were human intruders. Prior to arriving at that realization, the affair resembled a haunting. I was certain the cinematographers would insert subtle figures of the perpetrators in the background. One such scene was when Clementine is driving home. I could have sworn I saw a vaguely defined humanoid figure, though blended perfectly, superimposed on a tree trunk.

Another reason was how the opening scene went down. But again I kept telling myself, this is Europe. The old World. And despite the more ancient history and richer folklore, Europeans don’t have the same American penchant of giving the screen treatment to legends and tales of hauntings.

The torrent I had, and this may have more to do with it being an illegal copy, came with two audio streams. One was noticeably louder. I kept that soundtrack toggled on despite my headphones being perfectly capable of amplifying sound on their own. The result was such that the jump scares, though not always typical, were sonic and aural in nature. Again those weren’t bad. A lot of why I enjoyed the film was guessing the nature of the assailant, human or otherwise, and the second guessing of how I had come to that conclusion. Once you disregard that and come in with the full knowledge that it was human pranksters (the IMDb description leaves it vague, but that’s also my fault because I didn’t bother to remember and confirm again what I’d read on the film before) the film suddenly turns out to be an exercise in more is less, more or less. I didn’t like the excessive exposition at the very end where they showed the perps’ motives verbatim in the final title cards. It sounded more like we’re being hit over the head with the insanity plea excuse when it was only one peculiar kid’s hangup or schtick. It doesn’t take away from a memorable ending and an eerie, chilling final shot.