Them is a French horror/crime movie about a French couple living in Romania, where she teaches French and he is a writer. They live in a semi-isolated area at the edge of some woods, for some reason in a gargantuan old house with seemingly 47 rooms and 20 foot high ceilings for just the two of them. Furthermore, as the movie develops, it turns out if you climb up into the attic, you can then access almost a complete additional shadow house behind the walls of the main house, with countless rooms and passageways and such of its own. Not to mention the woods are spooky with lots of places to run and hide, and then there’s some kind of underground system of sewers and culverts or something accessible not too far from the house to explore and get lost in.
So certainly it’s set in a promising, if not very realistic, place for a horror movie.
Gradually the couple comes to realize they are under siege by one or more violent intruders. The viewers are kept in the dark as to the details for as long as the man and woman themselves are.
Seeing this so soon after seeing Cabin Fever, it’s natural for me to compare it to that movie. For my tastes, it’s clearly superior. In a semi-spoof kind of way, Cabin Fever is very typical—indeed very stereotypical—of its genre in its characters and situations. Overall it’s got a little wit to it, but it’s not all that entertaining, and certainly not very scary. I found it refreshing by comparison that Them doesn’t wink at you like that, but takes the suspense and the fear and the violence seriously.
It’s not the creepiest, scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s more successful than not in creating an unnerving storyline and getting one caught up in the action. In the first half of the movie, the device of having constant portentous close-up scenes of people walking alone accompanied by ominous music is effective if overused. After that, when the danger becomes more real and apparent, there’s really no letdown, as there can sometimes be in movies like this. In fact, toward the very end, when information is revealed as to who has been victimizing them all this time, it’s quite a shocker and definitely not an anti-climax.
Momentarily I liked the ending even better in that there’s some text before the credits implying that this is based on a true story, and if anything remotely like this happened in real life that would really be interesting. But alas, that’s apparently a hoax. All I turned up Googling was other people like me trying to track down the “true” version of this story, and concluding that there isn’t one. The filmmakers even made a clip of a “news conference” about the supposed real life crime which can be viewed at YouTube and elsewhere, but it’s transparently phony.
What would make me rate this film higher would be if the main characters were more developed. They’re not quite ciphers, and not quite intentionally empty stereotypes like in Cabin Fever, but you don’t really get to know and care about them as people rather than just as horror movie victims.
By comparison, I think about, for instance, the French thriller Red Lights, which would have been at least a somewhat psychologically interesting drama about a couple and their failing marriage, even without any of the suspense and horror elements.
But while Red Lights is superior in that regard, that doesn’t mean it’s superior overall. For this movie does enough well to very well to have won me over. It’s at least a bit scarier than most movies of this type that I’ve seen, and—an important factor for me—it is mostly understandable and is pretty good about revealing what you want to know at the end. It doesn’t play that common game of leaving everything open and mysterious where you have to guess what the heck just happened and what explains it all.
If you’re looking to curl up on a rainy night with a straightforwardly scary horror/crime movie to give you nightmares, one that’s as realistic as you can reasonably expect from this genre, not trying to be funny or satirical, not all artsy and obscure, but also not roll-your-eyes simplistic and hokey, Them is one to check out.