18 June 2010

Ils (Them)

This one was working. For a good forty minutes of its short (74 minute!) runtime, I was legitimately scared. I was even taking notes on what moments scared me -- not to list here, per se, but for my own script. The power is out, there's a threat outside the house, and things are going wrong very quickly? Yes, it sounds familiar. For a good while I was tense and feeling the horror. I enjoyed the opening scene until the strangling from inside the car... up until then you got a vibe of something spooky, maybe supernatural, certainly in control of the darkness and the woods. But the figure in the backseat strangling the girl -- it just seemed a shockingly banal way to die after so much buildup. I let go of that moment of disappointment, though, and let the movie scare me again. And it did. It was working.

But all that changed in a quick moment for me, a distinct transformation. It was a good scene, even, a nice surprise, when Clem managed to more or less accidentally knock her assailant out the window and into a two-story fall. But from that point on, the tables felt turned. The monsters could be beaten -- undone -- so easily, so banally, that I didn't understand why anybody was running any more. What followed was a chase through the woods which should have felt all the more frightening because now the relative security of the house was left behind and we were in the assailants' (presumed) natural domain. But it didn't pan out that way. Like that opening scene (a good opening scene is a microcosm of your whole story after all) the killers' nature felt undermined by a truth too mundane to frighten. It became clear very quickly that these were kids, and even if they outnumbered Lucas and Clem, the couple kept consistently outsmarting or outpacing them. With each reversal of fortune, each close-shave getaway, each conk on the head, the bad guys became less frightening. Okay, it's the Evil Lost Boys, I get it, but I'm not as scared as when I thought it might be anything -- woodland spirits, a single masked killer, the undead, the principal from Clem's school who had a Cape Feare meets Single White Female crush on her. Dirty sadistic gypsy tykes playing Manson Family is just not as scary as the horrific depths my imagination was plunging. At one point I was hoping for a Lost Highway styled Mystery Man, brutal and cruel and mocking and impossibly unreal, to be behind it all. But gypsy kids? Meh.

So Ils was for me a great study in a legitimately frightening second act but a disappointing reveal and third act conflict. But I got a lot of notes and ideas out of it. And I'm not really the kind of guy who just brushes off being scared super easily, so the effective part of the movie was pretty effective. Really made me go into a place outside my comfort zone: fear. It's perversely nice to be taken there, since it's not often I go (or let myself go), and it was plenty scary without relying on jump-at-you cheap shots. So despite the ending it still ranks pretty high so far on the Travis Scale of horror.

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