MONKEY REVIEW: Them (Ils)

March 28, 2008

“They’re inside the house.”

Them (Ils), a brutally efficient little thriller from France, is a model of sustained tension: Set outside Bucharest, a young French language teacher (Olivia Bonamy) and her writer husband (Michael Cohen) find their remote country home invaded late one evening by unknown and very deadly assailants. The truly frightening opening sequence, which introduces the assailants and their threat, immediately sets a tone of fear, unease and dread, which the film maintains for most of the rest of its 77 minute running time. Gorehounds will probably be disappointed, as Them locates its terror in more seemingly mundane things: Searching, approaching flashlights, odd sounds that are at once familiar and increasingly terrifying, a TV left on, a car moved. On the commentary for The Silence Of The Lambs, director Jonathan Demme quoted Roger Corman as saying one of the scariest things in a movie is movement towards a closed door, “because you wonder what’s going to be behind that door.” Them is a movie built on exploiting that fear, what’s behind that door, what’s around that next corner, the fear made worse by the fact that the doors and the corners are in the characters’ own home. It’s the type of movie that may shatter a lot of viewer’s notions about their homes being safe havens, which is precisely what the filmmakers are up to. Unfortunately, the film makes a miscalculation at the very end, as it feels the need to explain itself too much, which undermines some of the impact of the final images. Oh, had the movie only ended a minute or so earlier, but oh, well, it’s still worth a look for horror and thriller fans in particular.

MONKEY RATING: ONE MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

P.S. This movie has been reportedly remade as The Strangers, starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, opening May 30. Both Them and The Strangers announce themselves to be “based on true events” and involve invasions of remote country homes that begin at even roughly the same time. However, having seen the trailer for The Strangers, it seems the writer/director of the American version takes things in a different direction.

P.P.S. According to Stacie Ponder over at the Final Girl blog, the reports that The Strangers is a remake of Them are “misinformed,” despite the plot similarities, which I guess are more superficial than I thought. I’m seeing The Strangers no matter what, so there’s that, and it shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing Them, which has gotten rave reviews from everyone I’ve personally recommended it to.

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