Ils (English: Them, 2006): French and Romanian, 74 min, written and directed by David Moreau & Xavier Palud, starring Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen and Adriana Mocca.
System 1 rating: 100, or 01100100
is a home invasion movie. I've never seen a home invasion movie before
this one, but after seeing this I feel like I've seen most entries in
the genre. I was never really excited to see The Strangers, but after Ils
I feel like I can safely not bother. (I know that's not fair, and maybe
I'll still see it eventually, but it's lower on my list than it was
before, which is saying something.) It hits all the requisite notes in
the right order without doing anything obviously wrong to make it feel
like the protagonists' idyllic, peaceful country home is suddenly a
scary death trap.
But it really doesn't (at least, not
in my mind). At a fundamental level it didn't really do anything to make
me give a shit about what's happening. It scares you at times, it lets
tension build at others, but it never really feels like there's any
motivation to keep watching. To me, it seems to be made for people who
like horror more than people who like movies, offering the horror
moments that are expected and doing a halfway decent job of it, but
never really tying it together into something particularly meaningful or
System 1 evaluation
1. Rewatch Value: No
I said before, the shocks were shocking and the tense moments we rather
tense, but overall it didn't seem like it added up to anything. The
shocks just won't be shocking the second time around, and even if they
were I don't feel like there's anything else in the movie worth watching
2. Emotional Impact: Yes
Despite my not wanting to watch Ils
again, I don't think it's because of anything that the movie did
particularly wrong. I didn't care about the characters, or the story,
but I don't think the filmmakers intended me to. I don't think they had
any pretensions of having deep, complex characters or moving, meaningful
plots. They intended to make a movie with scary moments and tense
moments, and in that they succeeded, so I will give them this one. They
wanted to scare me, and they did a few times.
3. Goals of Cinema: Yes
the goal of cinema is to entertain, I think that, in some minimal
sense, they achieved it. There were legitimately tense and scary
moments, and when you sit down to watch a horror movie that's
essentially what you're asking for as far as entertainment. Were they on
the level of something like The Shining? No. Were there enough
of them? Not really. But there were some moments that were really
inspired. Sometimes movies can be successful based on a few standout
scenes (I'm looking at you, Dark Knight). Maybe that's enough for a "yes."
4. Goals of Art: No
only thing this movie explores is how many ways it can scare you into
thinking about how fragile your house is. I suppose they might be trying
to explore how thin the line is between society and decency on one hand
and chaos and barbarism on the other, but it doesn't work. We don't
care enough about the people, and they don't appear to make any sort of
transition from good to bad – just calm to scared.
5. Artistic Intentions: No
a home invasion movie (fake shocked voice) but the culprits are kids!
It was apparently based on real events, but unfortunately never feels
like it. The characters are one-dimensional – how often are teachers in
movies introduced by giving the last ten seconds of a totally pointless
lecture that would never make sense in a real lecture? – and the
geography frequently doesn't make sense. The dimly-lit attic populated
with sheets of translucent plastic hanging from the ceiling certainly
makes for some good scares, and a creepy setting, but unless they have a
very different philosophy about home decoration in Hungary it doesn't
make sense how such a room exists in someone's home. It looks more like a
factory, or more likely like a cool location the filmmakers found and
decided to shoehorn into their movie.
6. Artistic Execution: Yes
the fact that a lot of things don't make sense or form any sort of
coherent reality, a lot of them still work. The hanging sheets of clear
plastic? I've never seen any in an attic, but if I did I'd be scared out
of my mind, and the shot after minutes of buildup where behind her we
see a shadow outlined against one of them (haha, get it?) is the
Platonic ideal of suspense. The actors do a good job acting their
non-characters, though most of the time they're acting scared so
arguably they're just getting off easy.
7. Technical Intentions: No
of my professors told me a piece of wisdom passed down from some
appropriately deific person in the so-called industry: "Always cut your
best scene." The idea is that, while it may be the best scene in the
movie, it will invariably make everything before (and after) it look
bad. The movie as a whole will work better because that one scene isn't
There are some really fantastic shots in
this film, and a number of moments when the handheld cinematography pays
off, but there are a larger number of moments, particularly early on,
when the handheld just doesn't feel appropriate. I found myself
wondering why the tranquility of their everyday lives was being filmed
in such an unsettling way. If the intent was to add the illusion of
realism, they would have done better by making their characters feel
honest. Shaking the camera doesn't make your movie "real" or "honest,"
it makes it "grating." Sometimes this grating feeling works, and
enhances the story. This is generally not one of those times.
8. Technical Execution: No
lighting is bland, particularly at night, which never really manages to
look like real nighttime and is only barely passable as "movie-night"
(those bizarre hours when everything you're supposed to notice is lit
just well enough), I frequently had a poor sense of where the characters
were, particularly in the attic (which seemed like a room the size of a
factory had just been laid down on top of their otherwise average-sized
house), and – the worst crime of all, in the eyes of a film student –
it looks grossly digital. I double-checked to make sure I wasn't just
complaining about the quality of Netflix Instant, and yes, the movie was
shot on "digital video" according to IMDB. I could make better (or at least less shot-on-digital-video) looking footage with my HD camcorder.
I gave this movie a low rating, and I feel good about it. I was bored
for most of the time, except for a few scary moments, and I think this
rating reflects that. I don't feel I can really accurately weigh this
rating against the others because it's in a totally different ballpark.
That first question really makes or breaks the rating, and I feel that
that's appropriate, but I need to review more movies with a "no" for
that first question to really get a sense of the scale.
beginning to think that the distinction between artistic and technical
intentions/execution is pointless. I think I set it up that way because I
couldn't come up with any better questions. I'll see if I can't make a
new system that fixes this. I have some questions from a draft of System
2 (I realize now that giving it a number may have been premature) that I
can probably repurpose; I intend to have a new system published
shortly, at which point I will make an earnest attempt to reevaluate the
three movies I've reviewed so far (most of the questions will end up
being the same anyway) as well as the "standard set" of Coen movies.
Despite my weak rating of 100/255, this movie actually has 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.
You can say, "Shows what they know," and blindly accept that my
opinions are, of course, the be-all and end-all of film and, indeed, all
forms of criticism, or you can go watch it and see for yourself. I
believe this movie is on Netflix Instant Viewing for those of you who
are too lazy to make an effort to watch it in decent quality (which,
admittedly, it won't be in anyway, so see it how you like).
if you do, write a comment! Rate it. Even if you don't, write a comment
telling me what I should try to review next so that I'll get more of a
response. I'll probably ignore you, but at least we'll have a mutual
illusion that we're engaging in meaningful communication.