ILS (THEM) is a French horror film that fits only somewhat into the French Transgression, the current mode of horror filmmaking that is having its heyday right now that insists on explicitly exposing the human body in every way imaginable. Most films in this genre are ultra gory [see my brief write-up on FRONTIER(S) for an example] and subject their main characters to what amounts to torture, for better or worse, and with varying effects on the viewer. Some are amazing works, satisfying and layered explorations of what it means to be a certain thing - in this case, human [FRONTIER(S), IRREVERSABLE, TROUBLE EVERY DAY]. Others are mere exploitation, or just can't seem to get over the trappings of their own mechanics to achieve that greatness, as is the case with the much-lauded HIGH TENSION, a film that manages to be scary, gory, and all sorts of other wonderful before falling apart with what must be the worst ending to a good film I've experienced in many years of seeing horror films in theaters, or with any of the American attempts at the same experience [HOSTEL, VACANCY, et al].

And so, we have now THEM, a film set in Bucharest that tells the story of the terrorizing of a French couple in the middle of nowhere by someone in and around their remote house. It is basically the plot of a million other movies (the recent American release THE STRANGERS has the same exact story, if it moves in a completely different direction), but that doesn't matter, because THEM is a film entirely about the execution. For 70 minutes, it is a rollercoaster of creep-outs, the majority of them taking place in the humongous house the couple, Clementine and Lucas, owns in Bucharest, where she is a teacher.

Also like THE STRANGERS, THEM is allegedly based on a true story, though like anything claiming to be so this must be taken with a grain of salt. I tend to err more on the side of the Coen Brothers' FARGO when it comes to adapting "truth", and believe that the statement only serves to enhance the film's capability if it is pulled off well. And THEM certainly is pulled off. Clementine and Lucas are believable characters, and they don't act like idiots throughout their assault, so that serves as a plus right from the get-go. Even when they do behave like morons, it's at least in a way that is believable and grounded in reality, and not some mere setup for them to get into more horrific shenanigans like so many characters in your run-of-the-mill schlock.

There are sequences in the film so terrifying and claustrophobic, like a masterfully executed pursuit through a corner of the house under renovation, that I felt like I was under attack myself. Clearly, these are filmmakers who know their territory, and they don't even use an overabundance of blood and gore to do it (which is why I say it barely fits into the current wave of French horror). On the flip-side, however, there are places where the film is lacking. I felt it should have been a bit longer, perhaps showing more of the dynamic of the titular characters as the film enters its final third, and its final chase, beneath the town, and through an elaborate and wonderfully creepy tunnel/sewer/aqueduct system. But this is a minor quibble about a film that managed to nonetheless make me feel uneasy from beginning to end, and which was truly unpredictable in its details.

No comments: