Wide World of Horror: ‘Ils’

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Ils (Them)tumblr_lsobotIscM1qbrc7qo1_500
Written by David Moreau & Xavier Palud
Directed by David Moreau & Xavier Palud
France/Romania, 2006 

The unknown has been a common theme in horror since the very first horror movies. It used to be possibly the most common theme in the entire horror genre. Somewhere along the way the various studios, directors, producers, and writers responsible for the many horror films released every year forgot about the theme of the unknown. Horror no longer became about the unknown, instead it was about the brutally visceral. The more the years went by, and as the more modern age of horror was breached, fear of the unknown became an almost forgotten theme of the horror genre.

At some point fear of the unknown started staging a mini comeback amid all the found footage, torture porn, and gorier horror films. Horror movies were once again being released that focused on what the audience didn’t see versus showing them all that their eyes could possibly see. Ils is a film that deals in the unknown, but falters when it most needs to keep things mysterious.

Early on in Ils we see the murder of a teenage girl. That is an important moment in the film because it is for the most part the only on screen violence that takes place until around the final twenty minutes of Ils. There’s not a lot of blood, gore, or even violence to be found in Ils. This is the type of film that creates an atmosphere and relies on said atmosphere to drive its horror elements. We do eventually get a few more scenes of blood and violence in Ils, but they are by no means over the top or showy.

Sound plays a major role in the effectiveness of the horror in Ils. There are a few jump scares, but they aren’t true jump scares by any definition. Instead of being true jump scares those moments are the culmination of a suspenseful build. Ils accomplishes this through the background noises that dominate the film. It’s important to note that in the case of Ils noise doesn’t always equal sound. The clicking of a child’s toy is terribly effective because of the silence that precedes and follows the rhythmic clicking of said toy. The film plays on the contrast between silence and noise to greatly enhance the atmosphere of every scene.

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It is only in the denouement of Ils that the film falters somewhat. The final twenty minutes of Ils are serviceable, but they also show far too much. A film that relied extensively on the unknown for its first hour resorts to showing the threat when the threat needs to stay concealed. There is a bit of a creepy factor to showing the culprits behind the violence in Ils. That creepiness is, however, just about canceled out by the effect that knowing has on the atmosphere of the film. The next time the toy clicker makes its sound it’s no longer capable of creating suspense, it’s now a known quantity that the fragile human mind can easily compartmentalize and file away.

Despite the lack of punch to the reveal in Ils, there’s no reason for any horror fan to pass up the chance to see Ils. David Moreau & Xavier Palud eschew blood, guts, and gore for an old school type of horror. There is reason to fear the unknown, and for its first hour Ils provides ample evidence of why the unknown should be feared. Unnerving and atmospheric, Ils ultimately provided a worthwhile horror experience, one that is often lacking in modern horror.

– Bill Thompson

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