Changing it up a little here and going for a more recent foreign film today. Not to be confused with the 1956 Giant Ant movie Them!, this Them is a 2006 French thriller about a couple terrorized in their home by a group of unknown assailants.
Them – France, 2006. Dir. David Moreau, Xaviar Palud. Starring Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen.
There are a number of films about this concept of home invasion (The Strangers, Panic Room, many more) and I have to be honest, it’s not really a sub-genre that interests me all that much. I mean, people break into a home and terrorize other people. There’s only so much you can do with that. So why then did I watch this one?
I was over on Top10Films checking out some of their reviews (they’re doing a 31 days thing too. Yay!) and came across their review for Cherry Tree Lane. Which led me to their review of Them. Which led me to Netflix to see if either were streaming. It just so happens that Them is.
What I like about Them isn’t so much the story or the violence or the moral lesson, that all felt pretty standard. Most of Them felt pretty standard really, there was a lot of “Well that’s cool but I’ve seen it before.” What is interesting though is how Them uses sound, darkness, and space to effectively create a really nice, tense film.
Them opens with a mother and daughter driving down a desolate road in the middle of a creepy forest. The mother sees a figure standing in the road and in an effort to avoid hitting him, she swerves and crashes into a light pole. The next few minutes are a nerve wracking “What’s outside of the car? What’s in the woods? What is that noise?” Again, it’s not so much that any of this is particularly original – how many times have we seen a girl threatened by some killer, she locks herself in her car, only to find out that the killer is actually inside the car? Sorry to spoil it but come on, we all know the urban legend about the guy with the hook. Right? Don’t we?
It’s not so much that we know the story, that we can predict what happens, it’s how the predictable set up is executed. I knew what was going to happen and still, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for it. Because when was it going to happen? How was it going to happen? And, a question that isn’t answered until a good two thirds of the way into the film, WHO was doing this? Sometimes knowing what’s coming can be just as scary as not knowing.
Them is a terribly appropriate name for this film. While I was taking notes, I found myself repeatedly referring to the mysterious killers simply as “Them,” it just felt natural. That’s who they were. Them. They. (The end titles play nicely with this expectation, but that I won’t spoil. You’re welcome.)
Them is basically a giant game of “F’ with their heads.” We don’t see the attackers until well into the movie, we don’t know what’s happening, where they are, we never really learn what they want other than to play. The motivation isn’t important, it’s not about why they want to do something but rather the fact that they can. Again, an idea that reminds me of other movies – Funny Games, A Clockwork Orange told from the victims POV, The Hitcher (probably cause I just watched that one!).
I’ll say it again, this is the sort of movie I’ve seen before; it’s typical of the sub-genre. I still did enjoy it though. I liked our protagonists, Clem and Lucas, who while maybe not the most fleshed out characters ever are at least cute, they have a nice chemistry together, and they’re really good once the action gets underway. Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen do a great job conveying the anxiety, fear, and terror that Clem and Lucas are put through. Their reactions help make the suspense effective.
The setting is also perfect. A rambling old house isolated in the woods. Every noise echoes through the halls, turning the innocent sound of a running faucet into a menace. It is full of tight spaces, sharp corners, cluttered attics. Once They get into the house, it becomes a twisted game of Hide & Seek.
Every little noise is deliberate, every flash of light designed. Our attention is drawn one way then another. Them is an exercise in dualities – sound & silence, light & dark, victim & assailant, man & woman. It’s a movie that would be an incredible theater experience actually. The sound design really is excellent. If I was as on edge as I was just sitting here in a well lit, friendly space, I can only imagine how nervous I would have been in a dark theater completely immersed in it. Seriously, I scared myself ripping a page off of a notebook. Which might just be a result of the fact that I’m incredibly silly but still.
I guess in the end, I enjoyed Them, it was entertaining, but it’s not amazing. Like, 3 out of 5 stars maybe? Possibly higher if I was more into this sub-genre. Yeah, I feel good about that.