With Canada’s modern horror output pretty much non-existent, and the U.S. continuing to focus on remake after remake, foreign horror films are seeing the most North American distribution that they’ve had since the heyday of Dario, Lucio, and Hammer. Films like Ringu, My Little Eye, and Wolf Creek caused sensations in their home countries, and would soon be available to horror fans overseas as well. In the 70s and 80s, the craze was all things Italian and British. More recently, the craze was Japanese/Chinese/Thai horror, but that has all but died thanks to a batch of truly terrible American remakes of their better titles. Now, it seems, the latest horror rage is coming from France and the rest of Europe. The last major horror film to make it to our shores from the France was 2003’s psychological slasher splatterfest, High Tension. In the last two years, a pair of films have caused an international stir with their scary, unique handling of the horror genre: Inside and Them. Recently being released on DVD here in the states and highly recommended from nearly everyone who has seen it, I thought I’d take a look at the latter.
It’s your average day in an average village for Lucas and his wife Clementine. After a hard day at work, they both sit down to enjoy a homemade dinner and wine together. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, Clementine gets a mysterious phone call. The caller doesn’t say a word, but a strange cracking sound is heard in the background. She finally hangs up and goes back to bed. A couple of hours later, a strange noise is heard outside their bedroom window. She looks out, and sees that someone has moved her car. Frightened, she wakes Lucas up and they both go to investigate. Nearing her car, Lucas is nearly blinded by the headlights, as someone inside the vehicle turns them on and then speeds away. A call to the police does no good, as Clementine left her papers and proof of ownership inside the car. Deciding to go to bed, they suddenly experience a power outage. Soon, a person or persons outside begin looking in on the pair with flashlights. More strange noises are heard, including some…from inside their house.
Home invasion is one of the most frightening of horror concepts. The idea that a total stranger or strangers could break into your home at any time and physically harm you or someone in your family is quite scary. The idea has been tackled many times past films, but not to the successful degree that this film achieves. This is truly a horror film from the “less is more” and “things that go bump in the night” school of old. You see virtually nothing, but occasional blink-and-you-miss-them glimpses of the invaders. It’s what you hear that provides nearly all of the film’s shocks. In the dark, any sort of noise can be menacing, and this film takes great advantage of it. The killers use all sorts of bizarre sounds to terrify the couple. One of the most scariest sequences is when Lucas goes out to investigate a noise downstairs, which is revealed to be their television set turned up at full volume. At this point, you don’t really know who or what is going on. The actions of “them” are almost ghostly in nature.
There are really only two major characters in the film, and we fall in love with them almost immediately. They seem to care about one another so much and seem so genuinely in love that we really don’t want to see harm come their way. Some of you may remember Olivia Bonamy from her work as title character of the French action/horror flick, Bloody Mallory. The opening of the film sets up a good frightening sequence that shows us a preview of what is to come and what the killers are capable of. The best sequence in the movie is when Clementine is trying to hide in a room being renovated. Plastic sheets are everywhere and she and the audience keep hearing the one of the sounds that the killers make. You know he or she must be nearby, but you don’t know where or when he will strike. Suddenly, they strike at her with a piece of wood. One of the best cat and mouse chase sequences in modern horror history. It then leads up to one of the scariest shots in the entire film. Executed absolutely to perfection. During the tense sequences, most scenes play out in silence, although the score by Rene-Marc Bini is quite good. Piano isn’t used nearly enough in modern horror films and hopefully through this film, it will make a comeback.
When the nature of “them” is finally revealed, the audience’s fear is lessened considerably because it seems almost implausible. Laughable, even. The fact remains, however, that the killers are definitely intimidating, merciless, and mysterious for most of the film’s running time. Speaking of the running time, it’s a lean 77 minutes. Given that the entire film basically takes place in one location with only one set of characters to follow, this isn’t a problem at all. By the end of the film, you feel like you’ve sat through a normal, feature-length film. Again, I don’t know if I completely buy the revelation of the killers and their motivation, but hey, once you know it, you’ll realize that the concept is no stranger at all to the horror genre. I won’t spoil it here, but I think most will enjoy the ending, even if they don’t completely buy into it 100%. I'm not going to lie to those of you who shy away from foreign films because of the subtitles, this one has them as well. However, after the first twenty or thirty minutes, there really isn't a whole lot of dialogue. Mood, atmosphere, and sound effects from the killers replace the need for talking once the action and tension really get going.
If you’re into Euro-horror, Them is a film you really need to watch. It’s one of the best movies to watch in the dark that I’ve seen in a long, long time. It trades the hardcore blood and guts of films like High Tension for subtle, atmospheric scares. The result is a truly frightening film that is better than I had any idea that it would be. A new American film that has been in production since before the time Them was being made, The Strangers is finally due to be released in the Summer of 2008. Many are saying it’s a rip-off of Them. Having only seen the preview for The Strangers and the entire movie of Them, I think I can safely say that while they both are a part of the same “home invasion” horror sub-genre and share a few formulaic similarities, I think both will end up being different enough. If you like modern Euro horror along the lines of My Little Eye and The Vanishing I strongly urge you to pick up Them. It’s dark, it’s scary, and it takes no prisoners. Watch it soon, before you too become a victim of “them”. Buy it!