Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The French have a nasty taste for horror movies. The genre has received a shot in the arm recently from European filmmakers seemingly bent on pummeling the audience with unrelenting terror and shock-tactics. Co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud had a big hit in their home country in 2006 with ILS (THEM) (***), a scarily atmospheric home-invasion film that for roughly 75 minutes, holds the viewer in a vice-like grip of nervous energy. Since the film is barely over an hour long, characterization and back-story are kept to a bare minimum. Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) is a substitute teacher living in Bucharest with her wannabe author boyfriend, Lucas (Michael Cohen), in an old, creaky house in the middle of the woods. One night after getting ready for bed, they are rudely awakened by strange sounds and the eerie feeling that something isn't right. Sure enough and rather quickly, they realize that their house is under siege, but from who exactly? That's the neat trick that Moreau and Palud play with the audience; ILS is more about what you don't see than what you do see. It's clear that the attackers are human, but since you never get to see any of their faces, your imagination works overtime. There isn't much in the way of blood and gore, which again, forces the audience to internally visualize some of the nastier moments. And nasty moments there are aplenty. The acting from Bonamy and Cohen is solid and about what you'd expect from a film like this where dialogue and plot are kept simple in favor of extremely visceral action scenes. Axel Cosnefroy's doc-styled cinematography effectively borrows from the BLAIR WITCH hand-held aesthetic while also becoming something all it's own: an almost exclusive subjective-camera nightmare. The way that Moreau, Palud, and Cosnefroy toy with the audience in the way that each shot has been executed is perverse in its own right. Nicolas Sarkissian's razor sharp editing is also a stand out tech contribution; the pace is unrelenting. And the positively chilling denouement re-enforces the cold-blooded nature of the tale. ILS may be short on character development but it's got more than enough jolts, shocks, and scares which will have all but the most jaded of viewers pinned to their seat.

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