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 BloodandSleaze.com, 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.