My inaugural foray into the Horror Squad Movie Club kicked off with the French thriller Ils, a little home-invasion flick often overshadowed by what I felt was the utterly predictable The Strangers. Of course, this film is approached in a much different way than Bryan Bertino's theatrical thriller, and while it all comes down to subjectivity, I personally feel Ils carried with it more tension and suspense than The Strangers, and for a variety of very important reasons.
Like Peter and Alison, I will forgo discussion questions and highlight what I feel are the most important aspects of the film, those crucial decisions made by the film-makers that resulted in a film that is wholly different from the big budget thrillers. Instead, I will discuss these aspects and why I feel they all add up to one Hell of an impressive little thriller, and one that surely does not receive the recognition it deserves among dyed-in-the-wool horror fans and casual fans alike.
Beware! Spoilers dwell within!
Although not representative of the film as a whole, I'd be lying if I said the opening scene, wherein we're introduced to the hooded assailants and the methods by which directors Moreau and Palud would craft their film, didn't draw me in completely. A mother and daughter traveling on a dark, desolate road, an unfortunate car accident, and a bunch of sadistic children (though we don't know this yet) set the mood perfectly. The tension and the terror is made all the more real as a car passes by, blissfully unaware that a young girl is in the process of being murdered.
Much of my love for this film stems from its minimalist approach. In their approach, Moreau and Palud eschew convention to create what I personally feel is 77-minutes of unbridled tension. A major factor in this is the use of sound. From the beginning we're given an introduction the assailants method of scaring the ever loving crap out of not just their victims but the audience as well. Unlike many of films of this kind, suspense is not brought about by a crescendo of music, but through the silence-piercing noisemakers and shrieks the hooded children make throughout the film. This results is a lingering sense of dread, as opposed to one-off jump scares that offer a quick yet short-lasting jolt of fear to the viewer. Moreau and Palud rely heavily on minimalism, giving us a bare-bones approach to fear: real people in real situations. As a result, the film is highly effective, relying on the things that matter to frighten the viewer. Gone are the warning signs of something bad about to happen, because as their plight becomes more evident as the film progresses, you know it's inevitable.
I can imagine a common complaint tossed at this film is the lack of character development. While I enjoy it as much as the next person, Ils needs to be distinguished from other films of its kind to fully appreciate why the character development is not entirely necessary. While we are indeed given a brief background of Lucas and Clementine, the intent of the film (at least to me) is not to have you care about them, but to realize that the very situation that they're in can seemingly happen to anyone. I don't need to be the one to tell you that kids can be sadistic fuckers; all you have to do is turn on the news to see that.
When it comes to their actions, Lucas and Clementine managed to remain relatively level-headed throughout, an impressive feat considering they are unaware as to how many people are actually after them. As their situation escalates, so do the severity of their actions: Clementine kills one one of the intruders by tossing him from a window in an attic, a marked departure the typically cowering-in-fear actions these situations tend to elicit. As the climax approaches, Lucas and Clementine are aware that although they're up against children, their lives are more important than social norms, and as a result a number of the children are killed during what ultimately proves to be a fruitless attempt at escaping.
Ils is a film that has been considered relatively hit-or-miss. Many have appreciated the approach of Moreau and Palud and the tension that it elicited, while others have cited it as derivative, lacking originality, and sporting a weak second half. Do you agree? I certainly don't, but I'd love to hear what you think about the aforementioned points and anything else I neglected to mention.