Finding films that exceed my expectations is something I live for. In the case of Them, it was had an easier task since I had no expectations. Although I had read a glowing review, I have a hard time not being skeptical when it come to the horror genre, perhaps making Them all the more rewarding. Recently released on DVD in the US, I am surprised that it wasn't given more of a chance in theaters as a film (albeit with subtitles) that is equal if not better than The Strangers. As a matter of fact Them is so closely related to The Strangers, they may have negated each other market-wise if they played too close together. Comparisons between the two are inevitable, not only because of similar storylines but they both make good use of an ambiance built with clever framing, editing and sound design.
(For those interested in the film, stop reading here and and take my whole-hearted recommendation and rent the DVD. Minor spoilers follow.)
Them was released in France over two years ago and was the first feature by the duo David Moreau and Xavier Palud who took on the US remake of The Eye. And while the offer to direct The Eye was probably a compliment to Them, The Eye lacks almost everything interesting in Them. Boasting a story based on true events (that should sound familiar to anyone who saw The Strangers), Them takes place in Romania where a young French couple have recently moved to work and live. Their large country home is as idyllic as the couple's relationship. When strange things start to happen in the middle of the night, their emotions run from anger to confusion to all-out fear. The set-up is simple enough and is classic horror film stuff regardless of true story or not.
The movie had no trouble pulling me in from the very beginning. The opening scene, a standalone introduction showing an event that may or may not be related to the couple's future ordeal, had my the hair on the back of my neck standing up. With the most simple of tactics, Them launches you into the film with an adrenaline rush. From that point, you savor the peaceful moments with the knowledge of what is to come. Perhaps I'm loosing my youthful nothing-can-scare-me attitude, but Them had me locking the doors. The fear factor was powerful enough that I was thankful for living in the city and ling in a small house. (The affordable house is not a house that creepy things or people can hide in!)
It would be easy to overstate the merits of Them simply because of its unknown status here in the US. And although I am annoyed by the "true story" prologue and epilogue, this is one of the best films of its genre that I have seen in some time. Scenes and plot devises are impressively subtle and sharp in their effect on the viewer. Both The Strangers and Them offer thrills and chills without being completely blood soaked, something I appreciate from a genre that has suffered lately from a philosophy of quantity over quality.