I like foreign-language horror movies because they make me feel like I'm watching films that are much more sophisticated than they actually are, simply because they are in a foreign language. "Look at me! I'm a connoisseur of world cinema!"
But if you're as savvy as I am, you know that foreign fright flicks are not the vehicles for social commentary that they would have you believe. They just want to scare the living fuck out of you.
At a lean, mean 77 minutes and 75 minutes, respectively, the French Them (Ils) and the Spanish [REC] assuredly deliver some good scares and genuinely creepy atmosphere for most of those relatively short running times. I wouldn't be surprised if at least a few of you crapped your pants out of sheer terror.
It may sound like I'm exaggerating the merits of Them and [REC], which were recently released on DVD, but, if you dig horror movies, these two are must-sees—convince your chicken-shit spouses that you're renting international art films.
David Moreau & Xavier Palud's Them, a home-invasion thriller that relies on sustained dread rather than cheap shocks, hardly has any blood or gore and there's not a torture-porn scene in sight. But after an unidentified threat invades the home of a French couple in the Romanian countryside, the movie keeps your nerves jangled until the very end. The nature of the threat is not clear to the audience for most of film—is it a harmless prankster? a relentless serial killer? something supernatural?—but when the big reveal does happen (I won't spoil it here) it's more horrifying than I imagined.
Watch the trailer (I'm posting the original French trailer, sans subtitles, because it gives less away than the American trailer. Don't worry—the DVD has English subtitles):
The Strangers, another home-invasion horror movie that I raved about last year, was made several years after Them. I could spend the rest of this post doing Them vs. The Strangers commentary, but I'm not. Both have their merits, and both have lingered in my mind long afterward. However, Them's eleventh-hour surprise and disturbing climax left me shaking.
While The Strangers is perhaps somewhat indebted to Them, last year's U.S.-made Quarantine (which I thought was pretty good) obviously owes everything to Jaume Balagueró & Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza's [REC], the film that Quarantine is a remake of.
Quarantine amiably follows the original Spanish movie practically scene by scene (and often replicates shots even), but [REC]'s super low-budget grittiness and relentlessness makes it one of the scariest movies I've ever seen.
While Them wants to creep you out and get under your skin, [REC] wants to fuck your shit up. A television news reporter and her cameraman follow some firefighters on a routine call about noisy neighbor in an apartment building. Turns out that a highly contagious strain of human super rabies (or something like that) is turning tenants into rabid, flesh-eating monsters. The cameraman captures it all on video (it's one of those POV movies that works wonders in ways that big-budget debacles such as Cloverfield never could), and the reality-TV feel of the proceedings adds a layer of tension to the truly scary proceedings. [REC], too, builds to a disturbing climax, after leaving a bread-crumb trail of shocks along the way.
Watch the trailer (again, the DVD has English subtitles, while this trailer does not):
I have to go back to watching Pixar films for a while.