“Them” (Ils) – A.J. Hakari

Last fall’s The Mist proved that there is indeed a fine line between shocking viewers and sending them into a depressed funk. France’s Them (also known as Ils) is along the same lines, although it’s nowhere near as depressingly grim as the former film. I certainly appreciate that the filmmakers are aiming to provide as pure and terrifying experience as possible, devising a horror movie with as little unnecessary add-ons as possible, so as to more quickly get down to business. But although it gets off to an impressive start, Them does start to unwind the more it progresses, forgetting that one vital element that even some of the most stone-faced genre features possess: a sense of humor about itself.

Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) teaches French to Romanian schoolchildren. Lucas (Michaël Cohen) spends the day alternating between writing and playing pinball on his laptop. Together, the happy couple share a rather spacious abode in the countryside. But one night, their peace becomes shattered by the arrival of — all together now — Strange Things that start happening. What begin as seemingly harmless prank phone calls and strange noises outside quickly escalate into an all-out attack on the pair. As their car gets stolen and electricity shut off, Clémentine and Lucas come to find out that a number of hooded individuals have taken it upon themselves to engage them in a demented game, one that will forces the lovers to stay on their toes if they’re to even think about making it through the night alive.

Okay, so Them sounds no different than pretty much any other horror flick you could pick at random off the shelf. But the idea behind the film is not to just rehash a done-to-death formula all over again but to try and get back to what made these types of movies so frightening to begin with. Them harkens back to a time when cold-blooded cinema slayers were true embodiments of evil instead of walking cliches. I can admire this premise, this idea of getting to the point instead of wasting the audience’s time with convention after convention. But although it works for a little while, Them never gets around to having at least a little fun. That doesn’t mean I popped the flick into my DVD player in hopes of seeing a self-referential festival of gore, but at least a lot of those dumb slashers movies knew they were dumb and accordingly served up as many ludicrous blood-and-guts moments as it could muster.

Them, on the other hand, maintains a buttoned-up attitude that, like the British slasher satire Severance, proves to be its undoing. Is the film scary? At times, it’s very intense; it helps that you never really get a clear view of who or what is attacking the protagonists, ratcheting up the suspense as “they” proceed to creep the living daylights out of their targets. Bonamy and Cohen are perfectly sympathetic leads, although a couple of their actions are a little idiotic even by slasher movie standards. But like The Mist, Them isn’t so much concerned with making itself into a “funhouse” sort of feature as it is with filling every frame with an aura of hopelessness and despair. It’s when this tone starts to click in that the movie becomes less suspenseful, as the characters head towards a foregone conclusion that leaves you feeling down more than it leaves you feeling scared.

Them does a halfway decent job of doing what it sets out to do, but running at a scant 77 minutes (less without the credits), that still leaves only about 35 truly nail-biting minutes to work with. Still, it should be said that this is a much better film than directing team David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s American debut, this year’s remake of The Eye. If that flick is any indication of the work these fellas are going to do in Hollywood, the pair best better head back to the home front.

Rating: ★★½☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

Read Chris Luedtke’s Them review here.
Read Andrew Guarini’s Them review here.

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