ILS (THEM) Image

ILS (THEM)

By Merle Bertrand | March 17, 2007

2007 SXSW ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT FEATURE! Alfred Hitchcock, the great master of horror and suspense, loved making movies set in innocuous locations, often in broad daylight, that scared the bejeezus out of us.

Folks, it’s been a helluva long time since I’ve referenced Hitchcock in a film review. Small wonder, given that the overwhelming majority of today’s “horror” films are simply tacky, sleazy, derivative, and predictable excuses to drive up the stock prices of fake blood companies on Wall Street, while providing ample blackmail material for hacks eager to exploit desperate young actresses willing to shed their clothes and soak in said fake blood.

Even more unforgivable is the fact that most of these so-called “horror” films just aren’t scary. It was a pleasant, if ghastly, surprise then, when “Ils” (French for “Them”), unspooled before my riveted eyes.

“Ils” is a disarmingly simple scare. Clementine (Olivia Bonamy), a beautiful young schoolteacher, heads to the seen-better-days home in the countryside for a pleasant weekend with her writer boyfriend, Lucas (Michael Cohen). At first, the only thing that’s scary is the meal Lucas whips up in the kitchen, but that quickly changes as evening rolls into the dead of night.

When power outages, strange noises, stealthy intruders, and flashing, unworldly lights wake the sleeping couple, our first thought, especially given the films’ title, is that the “Them” ain’t from here. Not that Clem and Lucas have time to dwell on their tormenters’ zip code, as the young couple soon find themselves caught up in a frantic fight for survival against forces that certainly seem unworldly…the way mundane shadows in the night often do.

“Ils” is the film “The Blair Witch Project” could have been. It’s one of those rare films in which the tiny cast, limited locations, and verite shooting style actually enhance the story, rather than making it look like a film shot on the cheap.

Based on a series of horrific events that happened in Romania a few years back, which makes the film’s outcome all the more terrifying, co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud have crafted the sort of smartly paced, straight for the jugular fright flick that’s all too rare these days. And special kudos have to go out to Bonamy, whose Clementine is exactly the type of pretty but tough and resourceful heroine you root for in a horror film. You realize that you’ll be ticked if Clem bites it, unlike in the standard horror flick, which typically finds the butter-for-brains damsel in distress reaping the ill-fated results of what her screaming stupidity sowed.

“Ils” is not a typical horror flick. Instead, it’s the kind of creepy film that will stick in your mind…especially the next time you’re driving down that mundane, lonely country road you’ve driven down a hundred times before.

The Grand Master would be very pleased.

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