Films That Haunt Me: ILS (THEM)

With a remake of 2008’s “Martyrs” coming out, the public is reminded of the heyday that was the French Extreme cinema. These works, including “Irreversible,” “Frontier(s)” and “Inside,” pushed the limits of viewer stamina with their intense violence and deeply existential ideas. There is one French offering, however, that avoids violence almost entirely – a heart-shattering and pulse-bursting piece of suspense called ILS.

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American audiences will recognize the plot from 2008’s “The Strangers,” a remake of this film. It is strikingly simplistic – a couple living out in the middle of nowhere must fend off mysterious figures who invade their house, with insidious intentions. This story has been done exponential times, but rarely has the filmmaking pushed it so far into brutal terror. Without having viewed the remake in its entirety, I can’t speak to their comparison – I know, however that the original goes much further thematically, and winds up making a bleaker statement.

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I haven’t seen this film for years, but it has stuck with me in an unconscious way. The execution of the suspense and scares is unique for a modern film because of its lack of gloss – the terror is raw, simple, but all the more effective. Quiet, out-of-place noises and glimpses of figures as they run down the hall become heart-stopping. The filmmakers place utter confidence in their scenarios and leave out all fancy trappings. Because of this, the film will fall flat for some people – but for me, it was overwhelmingly visceral.

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The ending is another point that ruined the film for some viewers. Without giving it away, I will state that I found it satisfyingly bold – not groundbreaking in any way, but it fit the tone so well, and avoided the cheap shock that a lesser film would have grabbed at. It is remarkable that the filmmakers could sustain the tension for even 77 minutes, and they do not waste that talent in their climax. Clear, brutal and not a little bit bizarre, the ending has always stayed with me.

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The simplicity and lack of glitz will certainly turn off many viewers. For those viewers who are drawn into its atmosphere as I was, it is a phenomenal exercise in suspense and terror. It is old-fashioned in that way – setting it apart from its equally noteworthy, but much uglier, cinematic contemporaries. Lock the doors, check the windows, and see if you can watch it without looking over your shoulder. After all, “we just want to play…”

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3 Responses to “Films That Haunt Me: ILS (THEM)”

  1. They’re remaking this movie again soon?

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