Right from its title, the French horror film Them plays on probably the greatest human fear: the unknown. So simple that it’s almost primal, Them barely even has a plot: A young French couple (Bonamy, Cohen) living in a large, old, isolated house just outside Bucharest is terrorized by a group of mysterious figures. After a standard horror-movie prologue (in which some unrelated characters get offed) and a bare-bones setup of the protagonists, the action starts and never lets up until the end. There is absolutely no fat on this brief, 74-minute film, but even as you get caught up in the suspense you come to realize that there isn’t much meat on it, either.
Writer/directors Moreau and Palud have already been snatched up by Hollywood (perhaps ironically as directors-for-hire on a remake of another foreign-language horror movie, the Thai film The Eye), so it’s not hard to view Them as merely a calling card, demonstrating their ability to create suspense with little more than a flashing light and some eerie buzzing sounds. The early part of the siege on the couple’s house puts this technique to good use, offering only oblique glimpses of the tormentors who are putting these nice people through hell for seemingly no reason.
In that way, Them is easily interpreted as Everybody, or Nobody, which makes it all the more terrifying; some of the best horror movies are about bad things happening suddenly and inexplicably. But even that visceral fear only goes so far when the main characters are ciphers, and the constant running becomes repetitive. Worse, when we eventually find out who They are, the explanation is disappointing and poorly handled and does nothing to justify withholding the information for most of the movie. Supposedly based on a true story, the film might have worked better either as a straightforward retelling, or with the entire premise left mysterious. This middle ground is sometimes scary but rarely gripping or memorable.
Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen
Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud