Why do bad things happen to good people? Earlier this year Ils’ (2006) American remake was released. The trailer piqued my interest and while I tend to avoid remakes, I broke my rule this one time. The film had some genuine scares, actually eliciting a few genuine screams from me in the theatre, overall though, the film fell flat, mostly because of an ill-advised “prelude”. The original French film manages to trump the remake in every way, much as I expected. Set in Spain, it’s about a French couple living in a huge house in the country who are disturbed one night by strange and terrifying events.
The remake follows a very different direction, and strangely enough, Ils has nearly the same plot as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. This in itself strikes me as incredibly interesting, actually making the film experience more thrilling and perhaps adding intellectual value that might not actually be there. The way I see it, a film like this, which is essentially two people, who are happy and secure, whose lives is suddenly turned upside down because someone wants to play a game with their lives does have it’s value (at least when done well). It’s not a matter of audiences revelling in the pain and torture of these characters, but rather a sympathetic and literal portrayal of the irrationality of life itself. In this respect, the film hits closer to home as over the past two years some really terrible things have happened to my family. Sure, it’s not as horrific or immediate as being psychologically tortured by some crazy kids, but I think the principle applies. These films explore these feelings of loss and confusion in face of life itself.
Using a great score and tremendous sound effects, the film is consistently frightening. The peculiarity of the sounds used, forces you to be a little more attentive and you’re almost straining forward to hear just a little better. Even before there is any hint of horror, you’re prepped for the worst. Even in the opening scene, tension is introduced as an anonymous mother and daughter argue in a foreign language. Along with the sound, the film effectively uses zooms and darkness to further create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Most of the film is centered on the unknown and unseen, it’s only very late in the film that we are witness to the culprits, so for the most part we’re as in the dark as the characters. Again, this evokes the unpredictable nature of life. We cannot look forward because the future is dark. Even within the comfort and sanctuary of their home, the main characters are not able to escape the impending weight of life. It’s irrationality, it’s cruelty and it’s apparent meaninglessness. If everything can be destroyed and torn away on the whim of someone’s greed or carelessness, what value can we find in moments that will be lost or forgotten when everything falls apart? Even before the situation seems hopeless, everything good is pulled away and even though they have each other, the relationship has been reduced to a partnership of survival. There is no more affection or faith in the other, only a reliance on the other because they are caught together in the worst possible situation.
Aside from being incredibly bleak, which I’m not usually a fan of, though it works effectively in this case… the film has it’s faults. Once they leave the house the intense claustrophobia is lost. Though they return to close quarters relatively quickly, it loses momentum. I’m also still uncertain about the final “twist” or reveal. Though apparently based on a true story, it doesn’t seem to quite fit with the rest of the film, aside from being totally irrational.
One last note, maybe my favourite sequence of the film is right before the night where all the bad things happen. The woman comes home to find her husband working, and it’s soo blisfully happy. Then they race through their huge home, and the way the sequence is shot is PURE horror film, though the tone is so happy… it is one of many visual hints as to what will come though.