Them is a low-key, low-budget suspense thriller from France that strives to tap into the current mind-set of contemporary horror cinema, post-Blair Witch, by opening with a spurious "based on actual events" caption that brings to mind the similarly counterfeit claims made by films such as Hostel, Wolf Creek and the big-budget Hollywood remakes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. We know by now that these statements are cynical and exploitative attempts to get people talking, and to also give a greater sense of dramatic worth to a genre that can quite often become bogged down in a mire of predictability and cliché.
That said the film is far superior to any of the films aforementioned, mostly because of the fact that it jettisons blood and guts in favour of subtle shocks and an anxious atmosphere of foreboding dread. Really, it's quite a refreshing change, especially considering the fact that REAL horror isn't about what you see, but what you don't see; a notion that is best exemplified by the pre-credit sequence in which a mother and her teenage daughter stall their car on a lonely stretch of country lane and are fittingly attacked by an unseen foe that emerges from the darkened woodland surroundings like a ghost! It's really an amazing sequence of pure tension, and one that sets up the central threat of the narrative before we're even introduced to the hero and heroine who will feature throughout the subsequent 60-odd minutes of drama (the film is a slender 78 minutes long in total).
So, despite the average rating (we'll come to that later), I must admit that for the most part I found this the film to be incredibly effective; with the bare-bones of the plot focusing on a thirty-something teacher and her struggling-writer boyfriend secluded at a remote and run-down mansion just outside of Bucharest. One evening, the couple are woken by the sound of activity coming from the grounds of the house and when they go out to investigate; they discover their car being stolen by an unseen assailant. The couple immediately phone the police - and can't get through to their messaging service (WTF?) - but it's really only a matter of time before the echoing sounds of footsteps clomping, doors being rattled and bizarre and threatening alien-like noises return and begin to penetrate the deathly silence of night.
I suppose if you wanted to make comparisons, then Them is fairly close in tone to films like that other French horror thriller, High Tension (Switchblade Romance here in the UK) and Michael Haneke's po-faced home-invasion-themed satire Funny Games, with the odd nod to Last House on the Left, Panic Room and The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael. The filmmakers effectively utilise their low-budget by staging much of the film in a single location and with only the two principal actors, with the antagonists going unseen for at least 90% of the film (again, this proves the rule that the scariest stuff is the stuff you never see, which is further proved by the laughable moments that happen towards the end).
Here is where my problem with the film begins; with the last ten minutes introducing something of a plot-twist (although I'm not quite sure it's as obvious as that) that for me rendered much of the proceeding action farcical and highly unbelievable. It also makes us question the decisions made by our two protagonists, with fear and the survival instinct being replaced by blind stupidity. I don't want to give too much away, but the initial theft of the car takes place (according to the digital clock in the bedroom) at 3:45 am. For me, it would have made more sense to lock myself in the bathroom with a heavy object placed behind the door and wait there with a collection of kitchen knives until the early hours of daylight; rather than running off into the darkened woodland as we see here. There was also another aspect of the film that bothered me slightly (something fairly rife in contemporary horror/suspense cinema) but I won't go into it here (for obvious reasons).
These flaws (call them plot holes or implausibility's if you must) kind of spoiled the overall flow of this film for me, which is a great shame, as for the most part this was a five star thriller. I don't even mind the ideas suggested by the final plot reveal, but rather the way it seems tacked on in order to generate a topical talking point. It comes out of nowhere, and although this does make for a great last minute surprise, it shows that the directors were more concerned with being clever, rather than delivering a solid, thought-provoking and plausible horror/thriller.
Still, taken on the basis of its first 60 minutes, and the individual scenes that make up the greater whole, this is still an enjoyable if not entirely successful little film that is sure to guarantee a number of thrills, chills and edge of your seat moments of pure, white-knuckle tension; even if the final moments do show it up to be as dodgy and inconsistent as the majority of similarly themed films from Hollywood and the UK. Certainly worth renting.