★ / ★★★★
A French couple, Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michaël Cohen), wake up in middle of the night due to a noise outside their mansion, located in an isolated area of Romania. Although the two feel threatened, they are convinced that the intruders are just a bunch of mere pranksters. Surely enough, things quickly turn for the worse when the intruders get a hold of Clémentine’s car and the electricity in the house is cut off.
Written and directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, “Ils” capitalizes on the claim that what we are about to see is based on a true story. I was already unimpressed. The longer we sit through it, the more apparent it becomes that the picture relies too often on “Boo!” moments and consistently fails to go beyond elementary techniques in order to really capture the menace behind the motivations of both the protagonists and antagonists.
Naturally, we are supposed to root for the couple because they are the intended victims but would it have been too much to know more about them other than what they do for a living? As for the villains, I found myself snickering at the silliness of the execution because the filmmakers try so, so hard to make them appear to have supernatural powers—very swift movements that makes one think of The Flash at his most enthusiastic.
When the intruders appear behind a plastic covering or stand across the hallway, they wear hoods as if they belonged to a coven of witches who practiced dark magic. Its unintentional humor, its earnestness, often plucked me from the moment. I wanted to get scared. Although I was willingly vulnerable, the so-called scares and thrills did not work for me on any level.
The rising action is somewhat interesting. I enjoyed it when the camera follows Clémentine and Lucas as they move from one section of the house to another. Every room offers a varying level of danger. This decision benefits the picture to an extent, proof that the filmmakers are not completely incompetent.
There is flow underneath the tension because the couple’s attempts of escaping and hiding are uninterrupted. It gives a genuine impression that we are running around with the protagonists. Things do go wrong for them from time to time but there is a foreboding feeling that it could turn much worse at any second.
However, about a dozen scenes need to be reshot. For example, Clémentine and Lucas are supposed to be clandestine during the more tense moments but they cannot help but drag their feet just about every time they run. If I were them, desperate to evade the home invaders, I would have tiptoed until my calves began to hurt. Furthermore, it might have made more sense if the characters whispered to each other once the home invasion began. Instead, they continue to use their normal voices. It is not at all a surprise that the trespassers always seem to know their relative location. Their voices create unwanted echoes because the place is so spacious.
And then there is the cliché involving a weapon. If this were really based on a true story, the first thing the characters would have done was to obtain a big knife, one that was especially sharp—maybe even a meat cleaver—from the kitchen. (Assuming a gun is not available.) That is certainly what I would have done if I heard a noise outside and my partner unwisely suggested that we investigated.
Also known as “Them,” despite its attempts to be thrilling and scary, “Ils” ends up evoking silliness more than anything. It dares us to snicker at the couple’s lack of basic survival instincts.