At The Picture Show
Who are They?
French horror film 'Them' creates a disturbing, unnerving portrait of ambiguous fears from unspeakable sources
Dark Sky Films
Director: David Moreau and Xavier Palud
Screenplay: David Moreau and Xavier Palud
Starring: Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen, Adriana Mocca and Maria Roman
Rated R / 1 hour, 17 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)
It really doesn't matter whether or not Them was actually based on a true story --
or how faithful it is to the supposed actual events. The Coen Brothers famously
opened Fargo with a disclaimer, insisting that the film was based on a true story
and that all the details had been kept intact.
Of course, not a shred of it was true. It was just Joel and Ethan having fun with us
-- maybe asking us to consider it through the eyes of complete plausibility.
Perhaps a comment on our obsession with "true-life" stories.
And so, regardless of the truthiness of Them's story, it
remains an intriguing, oft-gripping account of a couple that get terrorized in their
home by shadowy figures unknown. Taking stylistic cues from the likes of The
Blair Witch Project by utilizing a minimalist, documentary style, directors David
Moreau and Xavier Palud allow the fear and strangeness to creep up on us. We
can easily get put on edge if we know there's a supernatural entity present, or if we
know someone is out to get our protagonist, or if the enemy is something we can
easily recognize as evil.
But Them never makes such distinctions easy for us to figure out. The events
unfold exclusively from the point of view of the characters, whose only
knowledge of the danger of their own surroundings comes from the noises they
hear, the lights they see outside, the knocks on the door, the whispers in the
woods . . .
The subjective POV of the camera is hugely important, framing its characters only
in their immediate surroundings -- sometimes showing us what's just in front of
them, or just behind them, but never cheating by intercutting them with anything
too obviously threatening. In other words, we never meet the bad guys. And only
in the final shot -- which, let me put it in big letters, is BRILLIANT and chilling
in its sheer ambiguous casualness -- do we get a clue as to the context of the
characters' danger. Up until that point, the situation has gone from eerie to
terrifying to downright creepy. And then those final shots . . .
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Back to the
characters. Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) is a teacher living in a large cottage in
the French countryside with her boyfriend, Lucas (Michael Cohen). It's a
perfectly ordinary day, and they have a mostly ordinary evening . . . but once night
comes and it's time for bed, things start happening. At first they think it's nothing,
But they're wrong. It's something. We know this because of the opening scene,
during which we introduced to our always-elusive antagonists and another pair of
Actually, the first scene, while well-directed, is the only one I have a major
problem with. The way it plays out seems to go against what we eventually find
out about whoever or whatever is stalking this happy couple in their cottage. So,
in retrospect, the film seems to be cheating in the opening scene. And for what?
Just for manipulative effect?
Regardless, Them picks up quite a bit of steam -- in rapidly escalating fashion --
once Clementine and Lucas become terrorized and have to ambiguously fight for
survival from . . . well, they don't know what. We experience their fear as they
experience it, which is to say they're in the dark for most of the time. When we
first see our aggressors, it's even scarier. Or maybe scary isn't exactly the right
word. Off-putting, to say the least.
There seems to be some meat missing from the film
-- perhaps the budget was excessively low, I'm not sure. Still, during its brief
running time, Them creates an alarming and increasingly scary atmosphere as it
builds to its exceptionally disturbing conclusion.
Read more by Chris Bellamy