Thursday, June 12, 2008

Them (2006)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed The Strangers. The critics had almost universally dismissed the film as just another unimportant horror flick that didn't meet up to their collective standards. As it turns out, those critics don't read my blog. At the very least, they don't comment on my blog. I got a bunch of great feedback from you guys. Some of you were either excited to see The Strangers or had already watched it and really enjoyed it.

Thanks to Kim, Jonny, Taylor, Keith from The Kinetoscope Parlor, Rob from Natsukashi, and J.J. from As Little as Possible for dropping by and letting me know what they thought about The Strangers

The more I talked about this movie, the more people recommended a French thriller called Them. Using the same home invasion premise, I was told that Them was "Strangers done right." We'll see...

If you're too lazy to read this entire post, here's my verdict on Them: the first two acts are scary as hell, but by the end, all tension and suspense evaporates with the morning sun. I was so not scared that I decided to drop by the murder scene by my house and get some pizza. Oh, did I forget to mention that two people were killed 200 ft. from my house? Word to the wise, when a drunken a-hole demands that you buy him free pizza, you should probably buy him some.

Logging in at a slender seventy-seven minutes, Them follows a gorgeous schoolteacher named Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas, her lover, through the worst night of their lives.

Just to give you an idea of who you'll be staring at, imagine Michael Cohen as the poor man's Oliver Martinez and Olivia Bonamy as the "living paycheck to paycheck but is holding out for that Christmas bonus" man's Diane Lane. Clear enough?

I don't want to just compare Them with The Strangers but since it's been presented to me as "The Strangers done right," then I think some sort of comparison is in order. Each movie has their strong points and weak points but it's safe to say that any slasher fan will find a hell of a lot to enjoy with either.

Like I said earlier, the first hour of Them is extremely stressful on the ol' ticker.
+ high fiber diet - adult diapers = messy situation. Fortunately, the filmmakers leave the viewer an extra half hour to clean up before the credits roll.

Here's a rundown on good guys, the bad guys, and the location. If this doesn't give you a good idea of what you're getting yourself into...then I'm not very good at this.

The Good Guys

Clementine and Lucas make for a couple of decent victims. Their backstory is shallow but deeper than some other movies. Clementine teaches French to Romanian kids and Lucas is an writer who appears to be somewhat less-than-successful. Maybe all writers just look unsuccessful to me.

When push comes to shove, it's Clementine who's kicking the assess of their assailants. Clementine is rad. She takes all the risks, protects her man, and shows those hooded hooligans who's boss. Compare this to the sniveling, shrieking, Liv Tyler and you get a clear picture as to what a kick-ass woman should look like. Lucas is pretty lame but he serves his purpose, fighting back in overtime and proving not to be the absolute definition of 'sucktatude.'

The Bad Guys

Who? Why? How many? Who knows?

Individualism is not the defining characteristic of these baddies. Donning hooded sweatshirts and Chucks, a large group of mystery guests invade Clementine's proverbial talk show. They'll jack your car, stab your eyeballs, and even turn off the lights to make things scarier. There's one scene, and I don't think I'm giving anything away, but the bad guys puts this spaghetti in a bowl... Clementine puts her hand in it... well, I try to be spoiler-free here so you'll have to watch the movie.

The Location

Clementine and Lucas are trapped in their house. That's terrifying. Just the idea of home invasion has inspired a handful of really great horror films. (See: Funny Games) Even though you know every nook and cranny of your house, you still aren't safe. You know all the best hiding places. You know where the guns are hidden. You even know how to get from the Lounge to the Conservatory on a low die roll. But it doesn't matter, psychopaths always seem to be pretty determined.

Clem and Lucas' house is gigantic. She's a schoolteacher. He's a writer. I guess the housing bubble hasn't reached Romania yet. But affordability isn't the problem here, it's the fact that the house was clearly made for a horror movie. Lots of long hallways, scary attics and basements, and even a couple hidden rooms. They might as well have built on an old church, a nursery atop an Indian burial ground and a butchery. Everything just seemed too worked out.

Don't get me wrong, the scenes in the house work. I was sweating bullets that I tried shooting out of a water gun which was less fun than it sounds. The first hour is really scary but I kept getting taken out of it when I thought about the location. How convenient is an attic filled with hanging plastic sheets? That scene is actually scary as hell but the movie quickly loses it's steam afterwards.

Not to give too much away, but the most important factor in a home invasion movie is containment. Set the limits and stay within them. Them ignores it's limits for the last third of the running time. It doesn't add to the suspense because the containment factor is readjusted. In short, they go outside. It transforms from a terrifying "they're in my home" movie to "I'm going to hide behind this tree" movie. Which one sounds scarier? You're right.

This was one of the most difficult posts I've written for a number of reasons. Trying to avoid comparisons between Them and The Strangers was difficult because that's basically how I watched the movie. "Strangers done right." Well, I wouldn't quite say that. They both use the same premise in different ways but they have a lot of similarities too.

One nice thing about The Strangers is how the director left the story contained. It begins in the house and it ends in the house. There are a few outside expeditions but everything always gets drawn back to the starting point. The movie Cube just came to mind. It's really the best film to nail the confinement angle. Whooo, that's a good movie.

My advice is to check out all these movies and draw up your own conclusions. Then watch Funny Games.


whitney said...

Yeah, I don't see The Strangers as a remake of Them as has been suggested to me. They both involve home invasions, but that just seems to situate them in a genre. Home Alone, anyone? Why isn't anyone bringing up Home Alone in this discussion??


elgringo said...

Yeah, seriously! Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are just as scary as the next duo of psychopaths. They try to murder a little boy for 90 minutes. What the hell?

Son of Double Feature said...

I thought you were reviewing the classic 1954 Atomic paranoia/giant ant classic "Them!"

...What is it with me and the ants?

brian said...

you should check out that earlier them movie. it's pretty hilarious and awesome. so there are giant ants spawned from nuclear testing. they terrorize entire towns. there's a women scientist that's totally a babe. and a documentary about ants in the movie. good stuff.