Lucas and Clementine live peacefully in their isolated country house, but one night they wake up to strange noise… they’re not alone… and a group of hooded assailants begin to terrorize them throughout the night.
Them, or to give the film it’s official French title ‘Ils’ is a 2006 French horror film directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud. It stars Olivia Bonamy who plays Clementine, a young teacher who has recently moved from France to a remote but idyllic country house near Bucharest, Romania with her lover Lucas played by Michael Cohen. It is reportedly based on true events involving an Austrian couple living in the Czech Republic.
After an opening sequence involving a mother and daughter, which sees the two assaulted by unknown enemies, we then see Clementine as she’s ending her workday as a schoolteacher. Driving home to her house in the country, she passes by the now abandoned SUV that belonged to the mother and daughter from the prologue. Clementine is oblivious to the significance of this sight, but we know that she’ll soon be encountering the same enemies that they did.
Them tends to get compared to the american 2008 film ‘The Strangers’ (read my review of that here). Being home invasion movies the comparisons are obvious. However, anyone that reads my review of ‘The Strangers’ will see I wasn’t particularly thrilled or happy with what I saw. I feel that everything that was done wrong in that movie had no excuse, in Them there was the perfect blueprint for how this type of movie should play out. Whilst I felt ‘The Strangers’ had weak characters who made questionable choices, and with enemies who appeared as though they knew every move that the couple would make and where to find them hiding, Them had this done perfectly with the two leads very much in love and who hated to leave each others side, and the enemies definitely weren’t invincible or perfect human hunters! Lucas and Clementine seem like a natural couple; they have dinner together, they work, and they have a very convincing banter and fun with each other. It’s just a normal night, which allows the events that follow to take the limelight as the truly devastating piece of action. In ‘The Strangers’, though, I felt that the failed proposal was pointless, and if anything prevented any deeper character development.
Back on plot now, and after going to bed Clementine starts to hear noises and this is when the games begin. Windows and doors slam shut around them. Their car seemed to take on a life of its own. The power goes out mysteriously. And then, they – or them – arrive. The terror and action starts in the house, with the standard cat and mouse chasing round rooms, with the couple desperate to find a way out. Clementine tries the attic but eventually they realise they will have to brave it and take their chances in the woods if they want to try and escape these unknown assailants.
Them more than adequately manages to chill its audience, and it expertly utilizes its low-budget and grassroots production values to its advantage. The result is at times almost Blair Witch-esque, with flashlights lighting the way during point-of-view sprints through the woods. The movie had good pacing, good timing, and certainly good acting. The unknown part is the creepy, scary part; along with the protagonists, you’re not quite sure what is going on or why, or even who is perpetrating it. The entire mystery of Them is based on who or what the unknown assailants are — as the attacks on Clem and Lucas intensify, we begin to get a better glimpse of the villains, and yet it’s not until the very end of the picture that it all comes together as to the nature of these baddies. I won’t spoil that for anyone here, but I will say I was surprised in a good way and a bad way. Certain things became slightly more far-fetched, but then at the same time I had to applaud the directors for taking this approach.
Sound is used brilliantly, in a disembodied way, there’s all sorts of cries and shrieks. There’s a rattling sound throughout which has the effect of making you jump, and we only find out at the end where this sound was coming from. There isn’t much gore on show, which is a good thing and works in favour of the movie’s atmosphere.
The final act down in the sewer system is great, as we find out the identities of the enemies, their motivation and we get some really nice twists thrown in for good measures. Combined with the lights flickering on and off constantly, and the maze-like claustrophobic end location, the chase and events down here were excellent. There is really not a lot wrong with Them in my opinion. My only doubt came with the revelation of the enemies, but the more I think about it the more I can see why this was how it was, and certainly how it links back to our main leads, Clementine in particular. At 77 minutes it is a short film, but from the opening scene it really doesn’t let up and delivers a tension filled ride that shows yet again how good European cinema can be.