Ils (aka Them) (2006)

MAY 19, 2008


Since Blockbuster is just fucking awful lately when it comes to foreign and independent horror*, I had to re-activate my Netflix account in order to watch movies like Ils (aka Them), which I have had at the top of my Blockbuster queue for over a month and yet to receive (the stores I've been to don't have it at all). With Netflix, I was watching a reasonably decent, widescreen copy of the film within 4 minutes of my signing up for an account. I was also able to queue Frontiere(s), a film that BB won’t even carry, apparently. Asswipes.

Note - I don’t like to watch movies on the computer (not counting old public domain ones from Mill Creek), but since the transfer was widescreen (some of the Netflix streaming movies are full frame) and the movie was shot on video anyway, I felt an exception could be made (plus my new computer monitor is only a few inches smaller than the TV I watched every movie on up until a couple years ago, and I have surround sound on the damn thing to boot). I won’t be making a habit of it, at any rate. And I paid for a Netflix account to do it, rather than download a torrent.

I’ve never been to Europe, so I am curious: does anyone actually live near anyone else? Do they have “neighbors”? It seems every horror movie I see from France, Ireland, Italy, etc takes place in a secluded house (or school) in the middle of nowhere. This actually makes the 3rd in a row (actually, The Hand’s 2nd half took place in a secluded cabin too, but that was America). Maybe these people wouldn’t get themselves killed so often if they tried the goddamn suburbs. I’d like to see what a team like David Moreau and Xavier Palud, or even Inside’s Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (these French work best in pairs!) would do with a straight up Halloween style “neighborhood” slasher.

Random ranting aside, this is a solid little movie. Like High Tension and (again) Inside, it presents the killer’s identity/motive as a twist, but with two major differences. One – it doesn’t damage the film in the slightest (in fact it’s pretty goddamn chilling), and two, it prevents me from listing the film under a certain sub-genre. And since it’s just hitting DVD and never got a real theatrical release here, I will refrain from spoiling anything concerning the killers’ identity/motive (the fact that there is more than one is hardly a spoiler – it’s the name of the goddamn movie).

A lot of people have noted (and even praised) the film has very little dialogue, which is odd because it didn’t seem like it had any less than any other film of its type. In fact, the couple is almost always shouting each other’s name, or saying things like “run!” “go!”, etc. I will say that even though the movie is in French, one does not really need the subtitles, because the dialogue is pretty easy to understand from the body language and tone of voice (not counting the minor character stuff early on – he’s a writer, she’s a teacher, he can’t cook, etc).

Another minor gripe is that it’s another of those films that are described as something that doesn’t even take up the majority of the film. Anyone will say “a couple is terrorized in their home” is the plot of the film, but the terror doesn’t begin until the 30 minute mark, and they escape their home with another 20 minutes to go. I only note this because while I liked the slow build, I didn’t care for them leaving their home for the final act. To me that was the most terrifying thing about it – your home is your sanctuary, where you have the most control - and the attackers seem to have had the upper hand. Once they leave, it’s sort of a typical chase flick. The surprise conclusion helped to erode some of this disappointment, however.

And in another similarity with The Cottage, Ils has a great “killer on the other side of the door” scene. The payoff is similar (not played for laughs here, obviously), and again, it’s timed out perfectly – I’ve seen probably 50 of these scenes, and yet here it got me, and I jumped a bit.

My good friend Matt, who runs, recently bemoaned how sick he was of hearing how much superior foreign horror is to its modern American counterparts (not that he disagrees, but that he didn’t want it rubbed in). And after watching this movie, it’s easy to see at least part of the reason why – our unfamiliarity with the actors. I don’t know either of these two folks, so when they are in danger, I believe they might be killed, even if the movie isn’t at the end yet. As far as I am concerned, there is no risk of losing box office potential because Michael Cohen is killed at the halfway mark (he isn’t, for the record). But take a similar movie like Vacancy, which I enjoyed until the end, when they pussed out and let Luke Wilson live. Even if he had died, there was no chance he was going to die anytime before that final scene, because he’s Luke Wilson, and there’s no way in HELL Kate Beckinsale is going to die even then. So even though the film was enjoyable, it wasn’t nearly as suspenseful as it could have been with two no-name actors in the roles, because their star persona inadvertently made them safe. Hell, it’s why the Drew Barrymore sequence in Scream worked so well, before it became a trademark of Dimension to kill off a big star in the opening scene of all their movies, never to be effective again (with the minor exception of the otherwise worthless Scream 3, which killed off one of the series’ most interesting CHARACTERS in the opening reel, rather than a big actor).

Moreau and Palud did a great job shooting the film as well; only the attic sequence suffers from some digital-y looking imagery. It’s also surprisingly shot in scope widescreen, something you don’t often see in low budget films anymore. Then again, given the killers’ predilection for toying with the couple, and the fact that they are kept largely in the shadows (I don’t think you ever see one of them in full reveal/focus until the very end), it’s obvious that Halloween was an influence, so the scope is fitting.

I highly recommend this film. I am almost sad I watched it on Netflix, it’s definitely worth owning (but since I just watched it, if I bought it now I wouldn’t get around to seeing it again until, I dunno, 2015 or so). Hopefully, unlike me, you don’t depend on fucking Blockbuster for your horror movie needs.

What say you?

*They also only carry the worthless “R rated” cut of Inside. Normally I wouldn’t care, but since they have exclusive rights to rent the film out, the only way to see the film properly is to buy it. And granted, the film is amazing and one does not need to worry about a blind buy, but I understand some folks just can’t afford to spend 20 bucks on an 80 minute horror movie sight unseen. And since BB rents plenty of unrated cuts of horror films (what they rent for Henry, for example, is unrated), it baffles me why they would opt not to at least give their customers a choice. Then again, between this, Ils, and Frontiere(s)....maybe they just hate the French.


  1. This movie, after all the build up and raves I read about it, bored me to effing tears. It barely held my attention and, I think, the only reason I even watched the entire thing was because it was pretty short and I had nothing else to do.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more about the effect of them leaving the house has on the film. However, the twist at the end makes it almost worth it. However, for 50 minutes this is a brilliant little scarefest; I actually got some chills which doesn't happen often anymore, and then a so-so final act. Overall, pretty good.

  3. I rented the unrated cut of Inside from Netflix. Not sure what you mean about the movie being exclusive to Blockbuster.

  4. For stores Blockbuster has the exclusive rights for rental (why it doesn't apply to Netflix, I have no idea). So Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, etc. cannot rent the film, at least not for a while (I think the exclusive window is for like 6 months or something, but I may be wrong). But yeah, Netflix has it either way.

  5. Well, I'm European and I have lots of neighbors. But I live in a suburb. We have rural areas as well and there are people who live secluded. They're the ones that want to get killed. ;)

  6. i liked it!!! spooky ending!!

  7. Although the storm drenched break-down that kicks off the movie is fantastic, the rest is pretty tired. To be honest, I have yet to watch any recent european/japanese horror cinema that has lived up to its hype. J-Horror in particular: Flat characters, absence of character development, redundant "girl in dirty white sundress with long black hair obscuring face whose vengeful spirit possesses a piece of modern day technology" as sinister antagonist. The 2 dimensional characters (which feels a bit of a stretch to even call them such) then spend the next 60 minutes trying to unlock the secret of the ghosts vengeful past and thus alleviate their curse and save their lives (although for what reason they would believe this is never apparent)...only to reveal that the ghosts vengeance is misplaced and unreasoning AND that their is no way to appease the spirit and escape their demise. People who consider themselves film afficionados lament the weak American cinema and its spewing forth of endless sequels that offer nothing and knock-offs that offer less, and snobbishly declare their need for more cerebral and better executed foreign cinema...and yet as far as I can tell those outlets are really no better. These foreign import/re-makes are the worse thing that have come to american cinema of late, and though some will claim that they don't hold the essence of the original movie, watch Ringu and then The Ring, and they are shot for shot, scene for scene, the same bad movie. Which brings me back to Ils. Since the American J-Horror remake well seems to have mercifully dried up, moviemakers are turning to european markets to indulge our new snobbishness. Ils covers old territory: isolated household terrorized by outside force. Where is the genius in this? I don't want to spoil for anyone, but the fact that the antagonists are-who-they-are does not raise the horror factor of this movie. Additionally, their identity is blatantly obvious very early into the film thus making the film's Shocking Revelation more of an Anti-climactic Waste of Time. And really, who didn't KNOW that the "Them" that was helping the protagonists at the end wasn't really just backing them into a corner to be killed?

    This movie is not clever, nor ground-breaking, nor inspired. None of its shocks shock. And the twist at the end is seen coming from the instant the "Them", for no fathomable reason, decides to help the couple. Well I guess when I put it that way, its seems completely obvious why it simply HAD to be remade for American audiences as The Strangers. So instead of watching our own familair crappy cinema we can now happily watch other countries crappy cinema, prententiously happy in how crap-worldly we are.

  8. Here is what is funny to me... I watched The Strangers and enjoyed it thouroughly. It's not a bad movie with famous enough people that wasn't completely predictable and lame. I waited VERY patiently for the little underground rental place around my area (Invisible Cinema)
    to get this in for me. My patience paid off ten fold. I don't see how someone could think this movie is crap... If anything The Strangers was crap in comparison. Sure I enjoyed the eerie effect of the masked tormentors, but I found that Them pulled off keeping everything creepier. It's hard to be scared when you see the badies eyeballing the victims.
    I also thought that the leaving of the house didn't cut much tension only because the house was so fucking huge to begin with. I never felt like they were really trapped. Not like Inside anyways.
    Truth be told, I am sad I have run through your whole french section so quickly. Find more damnit! Feed me!!

  9. I'm not sure how I could dislike the French anymore than I already do, but this film had that effect on me. Where was the substance?

  10. Hum...I think it's the same house from "Last House In the Woods," plastic sheeting + all.
    Searched for this, not at my beloved local video store, just got a Netflix subscription + hey! there is is. OOh, loved the ending with her trapped in the grate + the image of the kid twirling to New Year's noisemaker skipping along.
    1 hr. 16 min, well done tight movie.


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