Them (2006)

Starring Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen

Directed by David Moreau, Xavier Palud

The old dark house theme is addressed in contemporary form with Ils. Something weird has been happening in the woods near Snagov, Romania. A mom and daughter were killed mysteriously after their van went off the road, and now a young French couple staying at a creepy mansion are getting harassed by unseen forces in the night.

This is a quickie by definition; it wastes no time hurtling into the minimal plot, and it’s over before you know it. The suspense is effective in that you don’t get to fully see whatever it is that is tormenting the heroes until the very end. Personally, I found that getting to discover the source of the horror was to the film’s detriment; it’s scarier when you can’t see what it is.

But you don’t see much for the bulk of the film, and that’s what makes it work. It appears to be shot on High Definition video; the grainy textures in the shadowy areas of the frame offer many red herrings and fleeting shapes lurking in the darkness. What appear to be flashlights emerge from the eerie dense woods, the glare completely obscuring whatever it is that’s behind them. Strange sounds not unlike the creepy utterings and breaking branches in The Blair Witch Project tear into the silence, making for an uneasy ambience that is sustained for the bulk of the film.

The house itself is barren. There’s little to no furniture, and the lawn out front is overgrown. Like the strange nether-regions of the Dance Academy in Suspiria, the house and its grounds have tunnels and rooms that make little architectural sense, but the characters stumbling into them adds to the nightmarish feel.

The question remains – whatever possessed this couple to come to such a depressing place for an extended stay? It’s never explained. I suppose it’s plausible that they’ve just arrived and haven’t had the chance to put their decorative mark on their new digs yet…

Although integral to the plot, the Romanian setting and context is pretty much a sidenote. Perhaps it bore initial mention so viewers might assume that Vlad the Impaler’s final resting place in Snagov might have something to do with what’s going on. You get a brief glimpse of Bucharest which looks like a supremely bleak place, nothing but grey skies, tenement-like apartments, and Megalomaniac ex-leader Ceausescu’s herculean Palace of Parliament hoarding the skyline.

But the rest? All in the mansion. This a decent atmospheric flick. Some have heralded this directing team as the second coming of Alexandre Aja, but I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s see what they do with the slated Last House on the Left remake they’re apparently on board to direct before making any assumptions.

For a simplistic and atmospheric time waster, this one delivers the goods, so check it out when and if you get a chance.

3 out of 5

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Jon Condit