Movie News

Walterego tells us all about.... THEM!!!

Published at: March 11, 2007, 8:32 a.m. CST

Harry here on a quick secret daylight raid of coolness, figured I'd get a few SXSW reviews up. I'm DYING TO SEE THIS MOVIE! Here it is...

Review of THEM follows: The SXSW film festival began Friday night in Austin, TX, and one of the first movies screened at the Alamo Drafthouse South was the French suspense-horror film THEM (originally titled ILS for its 2006 release in France). For those AICN readers who don’t already know about the Alamo Drafthouse theatres, one of its great features is that food and beers are served to you in your seat during the movie. The best way to describe how suspenseful and unnerving THEM was would be to say that my Royale With Cheese burger was delivered to me 15 minutes into the movie and when THEM ended about an hour later, I hadn’t taken a single bite (THEM clocks at a brisk 77 min). As the credits rolled and the ushers came in to tidy up I finally ate my by then cold burger. Normally when you watch a horror film at 9:30 on a Friday night you hear a fair amount of audience chatter and noise like little shrieks or giggles. This audience sounded like 70 people trying not to breathe. I knew next to nada about the film because the synopsis offered by the SXSW website simply said it depicted a young married French couple living near Bucharest, Romania who are menaced in their isolated house by intruders. The two French guys who co-wrote/directed it, David Moreau and Xavier Palud, haven‘t made any other films which would have provided me with an idea as to their style of horror. I did read they are currently filming the remake of the Hong Kong ghost movie THE EYE, so I thought before the movie that the intruders might be supernatural in nature. Not so. This French pair are apparently devotees of the notion that low budget horror just needs to keep it ultra-simple. This movie is the polar opposite of HAUTE TENSION, which had too many bizarre plot twists for its own good. THEM clocks in at a brisk 77 min. Moreau/Palud realize that one of the most effective ways to grab and hold an audience’s attention is to have the protagonists simply listen carefully while they try to figure out who is threatening them, where they are, and how many of them are there. Lucas (Michael Cohen) and Clementine (Olivia Bonamy, a dead ringer for Angie Harmon from Law & Order) are awoken at 3 am by a noise downstairs. What else can the couple do but check it out? The “they” in THEM are not mutants or cultists possessed by Satan, they are simply nameless, faceless characters wearing hooded jackets/sweatshirts who are out to play a game of cat and mouse before killing their targets. They never speak until the end, and we don’t see the edged weapons they carry, instead we hear them scrape and tap them against pipes, doors, and walls. The most effective device used by THEM is a click-clack noise device like you’d spin on New Year’s Eve. The movie opens with a woman and her teenage daughter in a minivan driving along a dark street flanked on either side by tall hedgerows. She swerves to avoid something darting across the road and hits a streetlight pole. The mother checks under the hood while the daughter, who looks like a Romanian Elisha Cuthbert, cranks the engine. Her perspective is completely blocked by the hood, so she can’t see her mother anymore. The mother stops answering, and when Kim Bauer-ski gets out to holler in Romanian: “mom?” There is no one there to reply. When she keeps yelling into the shadowy hedges, that click clack noise comes out of them, and then a male voice whispers back “mom” in a taunting tone. She rushes back into the minivan and but locking the doors doesn’t work well because “They” have the mom’s door-unlock remote key now. Bad times ensue. It is a cliched setup, but it works because its delivered convincingly and without irony. I’ve seen that scenario I don’t know how many times but I was still in suspense as soon as the hood blocked the view of what was happening outside the minivan. These directors aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they are just trying to deliver solid tension from tried and true predicaments and acting that seems authentic to how reasonable people would behave. There is absolutely no gore and much of the violence is implied without being shown. When we are introduced to Clementine the following day, she drives from her job as a French teacher at a Bucharest school and passes by the minivan being towed away by Romanian police. I’ve never seen modern Bucharest in a movie, and it seems beautiful and gothic like Prague, but more medieval. I noticed a horse drawn cart puttering down the street in the periphery of one wide shot. Just after passing the minivan, Clementine turns down a long driveway to her house and we realize she lives very close to the scene of the previous night’s crime. When she answers the phone just before she goes to bed and hears only disquieting sounds and that click-clack noise maker, we know that “They” have started their game again but Clementine doesn’t know what to make of it and goes to bed. She and her husband are renting one of those European manor homes with 20 foot high ceilings and doorways tall enough for Herman Munster. The house is apparently about a century old but not dilapidated, like it was built to last in the pre-communist era. The door to Lucas and Clementine’s bedchamber has a heavy bolt that is so sturdy it seems built to lock out Dracula himself. You’d think it was the gate to Minas Tirith. But earlier in the evening, while Clem and Lucas chat with each other about the novel he’s writing , we notice how vulnerable and open the rest of the house is, ringed with huge windows that the couple aren’t particular about latching, and surrounded by high forest which sound echoes through, making it impossible to pinpoint its source. The house has the creepiest attic since BLACK CHRISTMAS. By the time Clem and Lucas awaken after 3 am to a noise (and we aren’t sure if it is downstairs or outside), it feels as though the entire house could have been penetrated in the hours that the couple were asleep. Horror fans know the weapons villains use (Jason’s machete, Leatherface’s chainsaw, Freddy’s glove, etc) but seldom concern ourselves with the weapons that protagonists use other than Ash’s boomstick/chainsaw combo. Mainly the hero characters are totally inept at using guns. When they try to use a gun, they miss, run out of ammo, jam, forget the safety, and they drop guns so much you’d think they were made of wax greased with butter. So what are the effective protagonist weapons? One would be the handy dandy kitchen knife. A well stocked kitchen is a potential arsenal of things that stab, clobber, or burn, and horror directors appreciate that they can’t be used until the villain is at point blank range. But the French couple don’t get to their kitchen (Zut alors! Jacques Pepin would have a cleaver and carving fork in each hand at the first sign of trouble), instead they opt for that other stalwart sidearm of home defense: the fireplace poker. So few homes have a working fireplace and yet in horror films those pokers are everywhere. It makes sense in THEM because of the archaic look of the house. The house’s TV is even a black & white model for some reason. Now here I come to the only faults that people are likely to find with this movie, other than the lack of gore or nudity. The movie takes pains to do two things, first, to emphasize that the movie is based on actual events. It tells us the exact date, October the 6th and 7th in 2002, that the events occurred near Bucharest. Secondly, it avoids showing who “They” are until the very end. However, since THEM was released in France in 2006, there are plenty of film discussion forums which contain spoilers about how the “actual events” aren’t exactly as portrayed in the film, since the filmmakers originally heard of the incident from some cabdriver in the Czech Republic. Also , who “They” are might strike some as a trifle implausible. However, if you watch the film without reading those spoilers, you will find that such issues are trivial. I knew that WOLF CREEK took a great many liberties with the incidents it was “based” on, and that didn’t stop me from being very depressed by the sadistic suffering the characters endured. If you make the mistake of reading the spoilers, however, it will make it impossible to view certain scenes as credible. Which would be a shame, because the film’s abilities to scare the crap out of you is dependent on the way that its scenes seem so very authentic, like it could happen anywhere, most especially in an isolated suburb in rustic Romania. -Walterego. P.S. Here is the link to the trailer in French only, no subtitles. CLICK HERE

Readers Talkback

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  • March 11, 2007, 8:35 a.m. CST

    CLICK-CLACK, I THINK YA HEAR US COMIN'...

    by Pennsy

    Sorry, was flashing back to one of those UnderArmour sports equipment TV ads. :)

  • March 11, 2007, 8:41 a.m. CST

    second

    by Cedar_Room

    i will never watch this film. Just wanted to post second.

  • March 11, 2007, 9:01 a.m. CST

    And the click clack comes from...

    by Mindworm22

    ...their large antennae, mutated from the nuclear waste dumped by careless humans. :::sigh::: In the end, it's always our fault.

  • March 11, 2007, 9:44 a.m. CST

    Sounds interesting but...

    by SPECTRE Agent

    what I think we really need is remake of the original Them! with the mutant ants. That movie scared the crap out of me as a kid but imagine what they could do with CGI...

  • March 11, 2007, 10:26 a.m. CST

    The big twist ending...(SPOILER)

    by NapoleonDynamite

    (SPOILER)...is that the home invaders are 10 year old kids.

  • March 11, 2007, 10:56 a.m. CST

    SPOILER?

    by IJUSTLIKEMOVIES

    ND- I've been searching for the big spoil party, but no luck. Is that really it? Ten year old kids? Lame-Lame-Lame!

  • March 11, 2007, 11:04 a.m. CST

    And the only reason I care...

    by IJUSTLIKEMOVIES

    is the intrigue of low payoff twists. Far more interesting stuff than a good surprise.

  • March 11, 2007, 12:11 p.m. CST

    The movie is indeed pretty scary

    by Marsellus

    I saw it last year, when it was released. It really is creepy, very minimalist, like a Blair Witch Project-like movie but not shot by mongolians. The only thing that disturbed me about Ils (or Them, if you prefer), is the reason why the directors made it. I read in an interview that they decided to make a low budget horror flick just because that's the kind of movie thanks to what you can get noticed by the industry. You see, if I were to direct a low budget horror flick one day (and I hope it'll happen), I wouldn't do it just to break into the movie industry and be hired to direct another fucking remake of an Asian horror film. I would direct it because I just love the genre, without giving a damn about "what good effect it could have on my career". But apart from that, the movie is pretty well done, and definetly worth seeing.

  • March 11, 2007, 12:12 p.m. CST

    That's really the twist.

    by NapoleonDynamite

    It's kids. No shit.

  • March 11, 2007, 1:21 p.m. CST

    WHY DID THEY HAVE TO MAKE THE GIANT ANTS CGI !!?!?!?

    by Sigmar 25

    YET ANOTHER POINTLESS REMAKE, & THAT SCENE WHERE THE WIFE IS WEARING S SWEATY UNDERSHIRT AND BATTLING THE GIANT ANT WITH KUNG FU WHILE THE "LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR" SONG PLAYS WAS ESPECIALLY UPSETTING

  • March 11, 2007, 1:24 p.m. CST

    Let's have a review - not a synopsis

    by Danny_H

    Why is it that every mofo on this site spends far too much time speaking about either themselves and / or a scene by scene description of the film - the whole 'geek' gonzo thing has gone too far. Give us a proper 'review' with some informed comment and the good grace to leave the finer points of the plot up to ourselves to work out. I don't need some geek preaching to me about how the director was their childhood hero to make up my mind whether or not I will go and see a film. Sort it out!

  • March 11, 2007, 2:20 p.m. CST

    They have a beer and cheat on their wife.

    by thelivingdoll

    ...sorry...I had to.

  • March 11, 2007, 2:50 p.m. CST

    Marsellus,I think you meant to say "mongoloids"

    by TORTURE PWN

    instead of "mongolians".Maybe I'm wrong.Genghis Khan spins in his grave...

  • March 11, 2007, 5:27 p.m. CST

    No giant ants ?

    by RobinP

    No interest.

  • March 11, 2007, 5:42 p.m. CST

    I didn't get the giant ants stuff until now

    by IJUSTLIKEMOVIES

    Shame on me.

  • March 11, 2007, 6:10 p.m. CST

    Yup, that is the great "twist ending" above. (Spoiler)

    by JackPumpkinhead

    The spoiler above is the true ending of this pretty mediocre film (mediocre but definitely better than that plagiarized crap Haute Tension - but what isn't?) I can even post the last lines of this film - so, SPOILER, SPOILER, STAY AWAY, SPOILER, SPOILER FOLLOWS! ---> OK, here goes: [[["After the investigation, the murderers were arrested in the Snagov region. They were between the age of 10 and 15. During the first interrogation the youngest amongst them declared: THEY wouldn't play with us."]]] <--- SPOILER ENDED, SPOILER OVER.

  • March 11, 2007, 6:11 p.m. CST

    Oh, yeah, and it suffers from the "true story" crap.

    by JackPumpkinhead

    There's an actual "based on true events" garbage opening this film. I guess this lie isn't only used by crappy US remakes of horror movies anymore...

  • March 11, 2007, 6:12 p.m. CST

    The minor "twist" at the end..(spoiler)

    by Walterego

    (Spoiler) The intruders are not really 10 year olds, they are teenagers. Just before the credits roll, some subtitles announce that police apprehended the remaining members of this gang and said that the were all aged between 10-15. So the movie is claiming that at least one was 10 and the rest were about 15. This is simply ridiculous because these would have to be the biggest 15 year olds I've ever seen. They are just as tall as Clementine, the french woman, as you can see in the trailer. They are big enough to drag a full grown man and singlehandedly pin an adult woman to the ground. In the opening scene they obviously drag off an adult woman in seconds and hold a 18 year old to her carseat. This problem with the movie could easily be fixed by just changing the subtitles to read that the intruders were aged more like 16-18. Or they could just get rid of the "twist" completely, since the whole notion that this movie is based on actual events is (SPOILER no.2) probably total BS. I've looked it up, and people in France and Bucharest don't recall anything like this happening in 2002. When I watched the end I assumed that some of the intruders (the ones offscreen) were adults and only the ones we had seen so far were teens. And those young ones looked at least 16 to me, so the end subtitles annouced their ages, I thought, "Oh, creepy..huh...waitaminute, seriously? WTF?" The point is that this movie is still extremely suspenseful and not lame at all, so long as when they start rolling those final epilogue subtitles, I advise that you just ignore what they say. I don't know why there has to be a "twist" at all in suspense films these days, this one didn't need it at all, it was perfect literally up to the last 15 seconds when those subtitles popped up. Otherwise when I was this again I'll be thinking that the couple should just get a couple knives and barricade themselves in some room. The reason they don't is because the intruders keep themselves hidden so much of the time, which is what works so well in your imagination while watching THEM, and the few glimpses they have the intruders are clearly of adult height and weight. Like at one point we see the boots of one of "them" stalking Clementine in the attic, and the sound of his feet on the floorboards sounds like Hulf Hogan is walking towards her. So it's like the movie wanted to have it both ways: large threatening antagonists, but also a tacked-on twist that makes them seem not so large or threatening.

  • March 11, 2007, 6:35 p.m. CST

    Just for the sake of comparison

    by IJUSTLIKEMOVIES

    Is this flick worse than its bad Euro horror brother, Calvaire? (and no offense to fans of the recent string of Euro horror films, I have yet to be impressed.)

  • March 11, 2007, 6:37 p.m. CST

    re: no offense

    by IJUSTLIKEMOVIES

    I'm not trying to take on a whole genre here, and have seen only a handful of these movies.

  • March 11, 2007, 6:57 p.m. CST

    Who wants this crap? GIVE ME GIANT ANTS INSTEAD!

    by Triumph poops!

    SPECTRE Agent and RobinP, I'm with you. I want a remake of the one and only movie worthy of being called THEM!, which is without question one of the top 5 monster movies of all time. Supposedly Warner Bros. greenlit a big budget remake and Joe Johnston, given his effects background, was set to direct. He was supposed to go straight into THEM! after JURASSIC PARK 3. I don't know what happened, but I'm guessing JP3's lackluster performance killed that deal, sending the remake back into development hell.<p>But hopefully now that Universal is going ahead with a big budget Americanized remake of THE HOST -- and given how Hollywood loves to copy what the other guy is doing, to hedge their bets -- maybe as Warners sees that going into production they'll think to themselves "Hey, maybe people WOULD like to see a good old-style big ass monster movie", at which point they'll revive the remake. But I totally agree that with today's SFX technology, an all-out Army vs. giant mutated ants movie would kick serious ass and get my butt into the theater during the summer. Several times, in fact!<p>"Look at this. The walls are held together by saliva."<p>"Yeah, well spit's the only thing holding me together right now, too!"

  • March 11, 2007, 7:39 p.m. CST

    Mongolians Vs. Giant Ants!

    by Uncapie

    See Genghis, get down! See Temujin's harem girls do the forbidden "Ant Dance Of the Gods!" See giant telepathic ants scream, "KHANNNNNNNN!" I am so there!

  • March 11, 2007, 9:37 p.m. CST

    For those of us who came in late ...

    by The StarWolf

    What the heck's an SXSW? Meanwhile, yes, give me the giant ants!

  • March 11, 2007, 10:17 p.m. CST

    Mongolians GOTTA EAT.

    by Pennsy

  • March 12, 2007, 12:27 a.m. CST

    you lost me at "no gore"

    by the_shogun_gunslinger

    PASS! sorry Harold my god man, but no.

  • March 12, 2007, 1:28 a.m. CST

    Ant Sounds

    by JohnIan

    Growing up I lived next to the train tracks. I wouldn't find out until later that the sound effect for the ants was train wheels. I remember the first time; walked home from school and heard the sound. That creeped me out. Anyhow; why a remake. How about a sequel? In the movie during Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon) briefing in Washington she speaks of a map, the locations of sighting as well as dead male ants. One of them is of particular importance, Dr. Medford: "The most recent finding was about four days ago, hear near Mt. Wilson in California. It was badly decomposed and we figured it've been there for perhaps a month to five weeks." There are two possibilities. One - that ant was merely a scout, it became lost and died on that mountain. Two - there is an undiscovered colony in Northern California. Hmmm? Have it set shortly after the L.A. incident. Could be cool.

  • March 12, 2007, 3:19 a.m. CST

    Yeah

    by Fortunesfool

    It's really not that great. It's two dull characters creeping around in the dark followed by a shakycam. Seen it a million times. Just because it's French doesn't make it great cinema. Cool ending though.

  • March 12, 2007, 6:23 a.m. CST

    Damn those Frenchmen!

    by Mindworm22

    ....just another group holding the ant down.

  • March 12, 2007, 8:18 a.m. CST

    "Mongoloids" Isn't right EITHER.

    by tHeGRinGoGenTiLE

    Dude that's a racist term. They are Downs Syndrome victims. Look up "mongoloid" and see why you shouldn't use it.

  • March 12, 2007, 12:05 p.m. CST

    How is this movie not lame with that onscreen text?

    by Doctor_Sin

    So, we have a cool suspenseful mysterious film with some out-of-your-ass ending that doesn't support the weight of the film that came before it?<p>How can people criticize "The Village" and yet drool all over this Frenchy-twisty film?