Running a scant 77 minutes, Them (or Ils in its native French) is a shining example of horror cinema done right. It’s a taut and suspenseful stalker film that takes about fifteen minutes setting things up and then jumps right into the crux of the narrative without ever letting up, giving the audience a chance to catch their breath, or wasting our time with telegraphed jump scares or meaningless filler subplots. In a world where horror cinema seems to be obsessed with how much gore and torture an audience can endure, this film is a relative breath of fresh air—relying solely on the tension inherent in its premise and the “what would I do in that situation” feelings the events unfolding evoke.
The simplistic plot finds Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and her writer/husband Lucas (Michael Cohen) living in an isolated Romanian mansion. Life seems good for them—she’s a teacher, he’s working on some new project, they’re in love, and they’re living in a really nice pad. Things can’t stay good, though, or we wouldn’t have much of a movie. Problems arise when they’re accosted by a group of hooded strangers who seem intent not so much on killing them outright, but toying with them—making them fight for their lives like mice in the clutches of a particularly malevolent cat.
As simplistic as that sounds, that’s the plot in its entirety. Them doesn’t waste any time with subplots or side-stories—it’s content to merely trot out the two main characters, let you get to know them for about fifteen minutes, and then put the cat and mouse game into motion for the rest of the film. Once the chase starts, the action never falters. When Them takes off, it’s literally 60 straight minutes of stalk and chase sequence.
The beauty of this is that directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud understand how to create tension through visuals and some truly disturbing sound design. In an American film of this nature (like The Strangers) the film would be filled with a lot of bogus jump scare scenes where the audience thinks something’s about to happen but it’s all a big fake out. There are no jump scares in this film, no cats jumping into frame, no pop up surprises. Instead, the movie is filled with genuine tension and an ever-increasing sense of dread.
The film, in a bit of a departure from the recent French horror cinema, is relatively bloodless. Don’t let that put you off though—what it lacks in gore it more than makes up for in genuine suspense. The final shot is haunting without spilling a single drop of blood—and is guaranteed to linger with viewers long after the film has ended.
Reportedly based on a true story (with liberties taken, I’m sure), Them is a smart and intriguing horror film made by filmmakers who understand that sometimes keeping things simple is more effective than trotting out tons of CGI and fifty different characters. The downside of this is that for me, as a critic, it doesn’t make for a particularly long review. That aside, there’s nothing wrong with a film that comes in focused, does exactly what it sets out to do, and lets you get on your way in under 90 minutes (and leaves you wanting more in the process). Them is one of those rare horror films that does almost everything right—and will appeal to both gorehounds and more conservative genre fans at the same time. Definitely check this film out.
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Lucas and Clementine live peacefully in their isolated country house, but one night they wake up to strange noise... they're not alone... and a group of hooded assailants begin to terrorize them throughout the night.
Writers & Director: David Moreau