Them (aka Ils) Movie Review
Written by Rosie Fletcher
Released by Metrodome
Written and Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud
2007, 78 minutes, Rated TBC
Olivia Bonamy as Clementine
Michaël Cohen as Lucas
A young couple are terrorised in and around their house.
This is the plot of Them and there’s very little more to it than that. Yet what Moreau and Palud have managed to achieve with this, their first feature film, is an utterly engrossing edge-of-your-seat horror that’s at once invigorating, thrilling and awful. It’s a very simple idea executed brilliantly.
Them is of the “house-invaders” subgenre; it explores and exploits the common and deep rooted fear of being attacked in your own home. The home, in this instance, is where young couple Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michaël Cohen) live; large, beautiful and surrounded by a forest, somewhere in Bucarest. It’s gorgeous, but it's also old and decrepit, and while we can see the couple enjoying the house at the start of the film, it fails as a fortress for them later on. Long corridors, winding staircases, hidden trap-doors and scattered furniture make for an excellent playground to torment the couple in. The underground tunnels used later on in the film are both other-worldly and horribly claustrophobic.
Them is a French language film, but there’s so little dialogue, and I was so absorbed in the action, that I quickly forgot I was reading subtitles. Bonamy and Cohen do an excellent job of establishing an idea of character and relationship without much discourse. The couple are mostly defined by their relationship with each other, which at times adds tension (particularly in the scene with Clementine hiding in the attic, unable to answer Lucas’ frantic calls to her for fear of being found).
Set almost entirely in real time, the viewer travels with the couple and is encouraged to experience what they’re experiencing. We walk down stairs with them at their pace, we’re thrown into darkness when they are. We peer round corners with them, jump when they jump and when we follow one of the couple, we, too, are concerned about what might be happening to the other. There’s no score (other than at the end) and no sound effects other than what the protagonists can hear. Only very occasionally will the audience have any more information, or be able to see anything more than the couple. Relentlessly tense, there are a number of fabulous shock moments and, unlike in many horror films, the audience isn’t allowed to relax between scares.
At only 79 minutes, Them feels very short. In fact, it feels like a short film padded to feature length. The prologue, while delivering a couple of good scares, is irrelevant to the rest of the plot and the scenes in the school don’t seem to add a great deal either. At the start of the film we’re told it’s based on true events, but this, too, is a bit of a distraction — in the same way as Wolf Creek may have had some basis in a real case, it’s a bit misleading to imply that it’s a true story.While the ending does leave a nasty taste in the mouth and add to the general unpleasantness of the story, it’s as well to try to forget about these things — the who or what — and to focus just on the immediacies of the story. And Them is a very immediate film.
There’ll be those who don’t enjoy this because of the lack of plot and those who feel unsatisfied that the characters are human and not super-human (they make mistakes. They’re frightened and they’re hurt. They don’t do everything right). But I haven’t seen a film that has given me chills like Them for a long time. It’s one to be enjoyed in the moment, rather than dissected afterwards. It’s honest, sincere, scare-your-pants-off-for-the-fun-of-it horror. Them is a film that aches to be seen at the cinema. Not for grand splatter moments or big action sequences, but for the complete immersion you can experience sat in a dark room confronted by a massive screen. Leave your cynicism at the door, sit back, and enjoy being made to feel extremely uncomfortable.