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4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Them (Ils)
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by Jay Seaver

"One of the classic thriller plots executed to near-perfection."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Ils" is basic "there's someone or something in the house that means us harm" material. Filmmakers David Moreau and Xavier Palud don't dress it up with a lot of unnecessary frills; they just spend the film's short running time figuring out how to best put the screws to the characters and audience until it's time to roll the end credits.

After a tense opening where a mother and her annoyed teenage daughter encounter something creepy on the side of the road when their car breaks down, the film introduces Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen), a French couple living in Bucharest, Rumania. Clementine teaches French in a local high school, while Lucas fights writer's block. Clementine passes the empty car on her way home, but doesn't think much of it. They have a nice dinner, and go to bed, only to wake up at about three in the morning by a noise inside their house. There's someone else there, cutting the power, and they always seem to be just around the corner when Clementine or Michael enters a new room.

Rumania is a nice place to set this kind of thriller. Bucharest isn't particularly close to the Transylvania region, but Eastern Europe is full of old, spooky corners. You don't need to bring the supernatural in to create a sense of danger, though; there's monsters of more recent vintage who left the country economically devastated until very recently. While Bucharest proper is fairly safe, the outlying area where the couple's house is located doesn't look nearly so prosperous; there might be folks desperate enough to go after the folks from Western Europe.

I had the supernatural in mind in large part because of the very effective sound design. There's a noise frequently heard off to the side or from behind that announces the intruders' presence, and it's creepy and unnerving enough to get the audience a little keyed up. It doesn't sound human, and the filmmakers refuse to show you just where it's coming from, and they don't go for the cheap noise-turn around-nothing there play much, either. Moreau & Palud opt to use little if any incidental music on the soundtrack, which is risky but pays off here. It's three in the morning, after all, and the lack of a pounding score emphasizes how still that time of the night can be. The characters are alone and the silence reminds us how little help is readily available. Since it's dark, Clementine and Lucas often find themselves trying to suss out their intruders' locations by sound, and the audience can try to listen along with them.

An issue with setting a film in the dark of night like this is how the cinematography works; we're spending a lot of time with the picture seemingly lit by just the moon and stars. For the most part, cinematographer Axel Cosnefroy does a nice job. It's not difficult to follow the action at all (especially since we have a very good sense of the house's layout from earlier, if we've been paying attention), so that's a plus. The stylistic choices are perhaps a little more questionable. There's not a lot of color to be seen on-screen, which makes sense for the place and time of day. The amount of grain is a little more annoying, even distracting. I really don't want to be considering whether or not something is shot on digital video while I'm watching it.

Ms. Bonamy and M. Cohen are put through their paces in this movie, but they're up to the challenge. It's kind of a thankless task to play these kind of "ordinary person in an extraordinary situation" roles; it's a balance between being genial enough to gain the audience's sympathy, fallible enough to not look like supermen but capable enough for the audience to like their chances in the same situation. They are pleasant folks, and nothing they do ever rings false. The physical aspects of their performances are solid, too, they run and jump and punch with the strength and crudeness of desperation, rather than expertise. They sell hurt and injured, pretty well, too.

Morneau & Palud are good at what they do. The opening scene is a textbook example of setting up a dangerous situation, and once the characters wake up in the wee hours, the film moves into relentless real time. Though we spend a little time with Clementine's students and a friend in the beginning, they keep the focus solidly on the two main characters; they're in the middle of what's interesting, after all. With the small cast and tension cranked up to nearly exhausting levels, there's a real risk of burn-out, so the filmmakers wisely opt to cut the movie short, at barely over an hour and fifteen minutes. It's tempting to ask for more, but sometimes the right amount is a little shorter than what we're used to from a feature film.

And that's certainly the case here. "Ils" delivers the goods in fine fashion, from its nifty beginning to its chilling end, and for practically every moment in between.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14767&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/29/06 17:56:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell good if familiar 4 stars
1/25/10 michael Sargsian good movie..but not as scary as i thought 4 stars
11/24/09 damalc way scarier than i expected 4 stars
9/19/09 theone suspenseful film. Better than The Strangers 4 stars
4/02/09 Anonymous. it wasn't bad, but it wasn't very scary either. pretty predictable but good ending. 3 stars
8/02/08 TreeTiger French - and mighty frog-digesting... 2 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Flimsy in a narrative sense, but undeniably tense for the majority of its running time. 4 stars
3/18/07 Czechpointcharlie I agree with the reviewer, only moreso. I think it's a TERRIFIC scary film! 5 stars
9/05/06 Philip Blott A one trick pony filmed in the french style 3 stars
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  N/A (R)
  DVD: 25-Mar-2007



Directed by
  David Moreau
  Xavier Palud

Written by
  David Moreau
  Xavier Palud

  Olivia Bonamy
  Michael Cohen

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