Home invasion movies always rub Judge Paul Pritchard up the wrong way. He's still sore from Ray Liotta's Unlawful Entry.
You'll Never Feel Safe In Your Home Again.
Reputedly based on true events, Them joins the growing ranks of European horror movies that, along with similar offerings from Japan and Korea, have been garnering favorable responses from horror fans worldwide. The debut feature from writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud Them, released in 2006, went on to gain enough acclaim to earn the two their shot at the big time, with the American remake of The Eye. Now audiences can see how the pairs careers began with the DVD release of Them.
Facts of the Case
Schoolteacher Clementine and her partner, Lucas, have recently moved from France to Romania. The two share an apparently idyllic lifestyle in their rural mansion. However things take an unexpected turn the night their house is targeted by someone or something.
Beginning with strange phone calls and the apparent theft of their car, the couple are drawn further and further into a nightmare as their home and lives are torn apart by Them.
Them a.k.a. Ils, is sure to have been on the radar for horror movie junkies for some time. Over here in the U.K., prior to its theatrical release, the film was getting (for a low-budget French film at least) a great deal of exposure. Then the reviews came flooding in and you'd have been forgiven for thinking the world had witnessed the second coming. Being a fan of the horror genre I've been burnt before, having allowed myself to believe the hype only to be let down when the "next big thing" failed to deliver. So, beverage in one hand and Easter egg in the other, I sat down and braced myself for Them.
Opening, as so many films in this genre do, with a short preamble that deals with characters unrelated to the main story meeting there demise, Them unknowingly gives away far more than it really should. Let me reiterate that, the prelude to the main events reveals that Them is not going to give you anything you've not seen before. If you had a checklist of horror movie clichés to hand while watching Them, chances are you'd find your wrist aching from ticking so many off. From characters splitting up unnecessarily to peeking through windows only to get a nasty surprise, not to mention being chased through the woods, the film covers a lot of old ground.
At a mere 77 minutes, the film has a reasonably tight running time; one that I hoped would work in its favor. Unfortunately, thanks mostly to the opening 20 minutes or so, Them takes far too long to get going, and could lose the interest of viewers before the main course even begins.
Some of the faults listed above could easily have been outweighed if the film spent its slower moments developing its characters or story. It doesn't. Them to me at least, felt like an exercise in horror; story and characters are secondary to the experience the filmmakers are trying to create, and that's a shame because just a little tightening up of the script, developing the characters so they are more than mere two-dimensional stereotypes, and less reliance on employing the same old tricks we've seen in horror movies for years, could have resulted in a far superior movie.
The films 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is most impressive with excellent black levels really adding to the atmosphere. The picture is consistently sharp with good levels of detail evident throughout. More impressive is the subtle use of the 5.1 audio track. Never overstated, instead it is used to unnerve the viewer with creeks and rustles.
The special features are reasonable with 3 featurettes. Best of these is the short "The Torture of Clementine," which goes behind the scenes of, well, the torture of Clementine (obvious, really). Apart from revealing how an effective scene was put together it reveals a cast and crew who were surprisingly jovial considering the bleakness of the film they were shooting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite my complaints above, Them contains enough to make it worth at least a viewing for horror fans. As previously stated, the film feels more like an exercise in horror than an attempt at creating an engrossing story with believable characters. Judged on those terms, Them succeeds.
Once the sluggish opening 20 minutes have passed, writer/director combo David Moreau and Xavier Palud reveal themselves to be somewhat adept at raising the tension and creating a foreboding atmosphere. Once the unknown assailants begin their campaign of terror, any humor that may have lightened the film's opening is completely removed. This is not a movie where you'll find yourself cheering as the victims are brutally slaughtered or toyed with; this, in many ways, is a return to the old school, where gore is minimal and our primal fears are played upon. Ultimately this is a home invasion movie, and from the moment Clemetine is woken by a noise outside, the film plays on fears we all share of our lives being turned upside-down by intruders.
A gripping final act that consistently hits the right notes, as well as upping the pace, sees Them redeem itself for its initial shortcomings.
In spite of the lack of originality shown here, it is to the filmmakers' credit that we never quite know which way the film will go. Although the final revelation may prove slightly lacking it at least gives the film a purpose, delivering something of a comment on today's society. I applaud Moreau and Palud for offering little to no motivation for the events that have transpired and for a final shot that offers an effective denouement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
• The Making of Them
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