Reviewed By Skylar Gahagan
In today?s climate of countless horror remakes and sequels, it seems as though films are more often concerned with establishing their characters as the next recognizable franchise villain than they are with actually being scary. The emphasis is placed on creating a movie brand, the focus on giving the fans more of the characters that they?ve grown to know and love. The problem with this formula is that at some point our expectations betray us and the things we once looked forward to being shocked by now seem predictable and boring. We begin to tire of seeing the same watered down characters and reusable plots, with every film becoming little more than a knockoff of the last.
It?s usually at that time, when that breaking point has finally been reached, that a film will come along and knock down all that Hollywood has built up, either leading horror in a brand new direction or taking the genre back to its primal roots. Right now we?re lucky enough to have just such a film with the French shocker Them (Ils), a slick, no holds barred thriller with a back to basics approach to terror.
Clementine and Lucas are a young French couple living in Romania, having only recently relocated there after she accepted a job as a teacher at a local school. After a hard day of dealing with the children, she is looking forward to nothing more than spending a relaxing evening alone with her boyfriend in the secluded country house they call home. Everything seems to go as planned ? they eat a nice dinner, watch a little television, and then it?s off to bed. The serenity doesn?t last long, however, as Clem is roused from her peaceful slumber in the middle of the night by strange sounds emanating from outside the house. She wakes Lucas, and when they go to investigate, they catch someone in the process of stealing her car, but are unfortunately too late to stop them. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. Soon the power is cut, and as more unseen intruders attempt to gain entrance into the house, the couple quickly comes to the horrifying realization that they are the targets of much more than a petty theft.
As someone who watches more than their fair share of horror films, I?m usually not phased by them. Call me jaded, or perhaps desensitized, but I haven?t honestly been frightened by a film in quite some time. Yet not only did Them cause me to jump back in my seat several times, but at one point I actually found myself gripping the arm rest in anticipation tighter than I thought humanly possible. Even at the moments when I was able to predict what was coming next, it was still startling enough in its delivery to throw me off my guard. The reason it?s able to do this so effectively is because the film takes an incredibly simple, stripped down concept and executes it extremely well. Its sole purpose is to scare you and therefore it?s not concerned with anything else. There?s very little back story to set up, no character histories to establish, no legendary monster tales to tell - just a full on assault of straight terror on the senses.
The idea of home invasion itself is mind numbingly terrifying. The thought of a group of malicious strangers holding you captive in the very environment where you are supposed to feel safe and comfortable is a fear that almost everyone could relate to, if they even dare to imagine what it would be like if it were to happen to them. Through this common theme of domicile horror, the film is sometimes reminiscent of the opening half of fellow countryman Alexandre Aja?s Haute Tension, in particular the air of anxiety caused by the limited amount of hiding places in a house. While it has nowhere near the levels of brutality and bloodshed presented by Aja?s film, it does share the same incredibly heightened levels of suspense.
With a running time of a mere 77 minutes, none of which are filler, Them packs a fierce punch with its nonstop pace, refusing to be bogged down. It?s just shock after shock after shock in this finely crafted example of what could be a return to form in the horror genre. Now if only someone in Hollywood would see this film, understand what makes it work so damn well, and maybe learn a few new tricks rather than just ordering a diluted American remake to be made starring the flash in the pan teen actors of the moment... Well, I guess we can all dream, right?
Them is playing as part of the '07 Philadelphia Film Festival.