Paced like an out of control bullet train, David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s stylish life-invasion horror Them (“Ils”) rises above the similarly themed Funny Games and Eden Lake…
Not to be confused with the 1950s Gordon Douglas sci-fi Them, Ils (released in the USA and UK as Them) sees loved-up couple Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen) being harassed in their beautiful but secluded countryside home by an unseen but decidedly nasty foe. Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud premise the couple’s ordeal with an opening sequence that sees a bickering mother and daughter stranded on a nearby road when their car breaks down. When the mother disappears the daughter frantically locks herself in the car as mud is thrown at the windows. Unbeknownst to her, there’s something lurking on the backseat.
Ominously, the next day Clementine drives past the stricken car as it is towed away by police. The scene, as she passes the empty vehicle and heads down the long driveway to her home, brilliantly sets up a sense of dread and foreboding. She is at once isolated yet all too close to the terrible events of the previous night.
Them is a French/Romanian co-production written and directed by a pair of Frenchmen and filmed on location in Bucharest, Romania. It is supposedly based on real life events but, while the filmmakers do draw on the horrific ordeal of an Austrian couple holidaying in the Czech Republic, the film itself is very much fiction. Yet, Them arrives at a time when, certainly in Europe, horror films are highlighting similar societal fears. There’s a growing trend to signify middle class fear of the under-class, adults lack of control over a feral youth, and the break down of society’s moral fibre. Them, like James Watkins’ brutal Eden Lake, plays on all these ideals, placing the successful middle class couple in a lawless situation governed by a broken and neglected sub-culture.
It’s easy to compare the two (and, it has to be said, with others such as American film The Strangers and Austrian film Funny Games) – both feature a couple in their late twenties or early thirties, both feature a secluded, woodland location, both feature antagonists cut from the same cloth, and both have similar endings. Yet, Them stands out as the superior movie. It’s a more composed, stylish piece of filmmaking. Where Eden Lake allows questionable plot details to detract from its effectiveness, Them focuses on pace and sustained tension, efficiently glossing over its own plot inadequacies.
And it would be easy to look at Them as a film that favours style over substance. Admittedly, Moreau and Palud don’t give much away about their characters, and Cohen’s performance leaves a lot to be desired at times, but the streamlined plot allows the film to hold down the accelerator peddle from the get-go and never let up.
If indeed there are a few holes you won’t notice them as Clementine and Lucas battle for their lives. You’re more likely to be awestruck by Axel Cosnefroy’s fabulous cinematography that plays on suspense-building off-screen space and some superb artistic flourishes such as the screwdriver-through-the-keyhole shot. Also, Rene-Marc Bini’s score is a wonderfully ominous piece of work, and the directors use the soundstage to its full effect as the terror really comes at you from all angles. Unfortunately, the use of sound in the film really only works to its full potential in the theatre, or when watched through a good quality home theatre system.
Them is an excellent horror film that favours tension and claustrophobic set-pieces over blood and gore. It’s unpredictable, stylish, and very well made.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Written by: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Starring: Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen
Released: 2006 / Genre: Horror / Country: France/Romania / IMDB