Them (Ils) (2006)

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Horror filmmaking, a visualization of things no one wants to happen to them, can be morbidly fascinating, or even lyrical. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, particularly, told its story brilliantly and in some ways transcended the vampire genre. Them, a slight trip into depravity  advertised as “the movie that terrified the French,” is not. It is tripe. The film doesn’t stand as much as a worthy story with characters as a gaudy set-designed ego trip, with meticulously designed dark corners, piercing screams, and convenient pitfalls.

When the heroine, schoolteacher Clementine, chose a place in the attic of her sprawling isolated home to escape from the home invaders of the film, of course it is an otherwise empty section with cellophane hanging in clumps from the ceiling, each one vaguely looking like a cloaked face. Of course Clementine and her boyfriend Lucas live in an isolated manor. And finally ,of course the isolation is broken by a “annoying” dog, who barks to warn them too late.

I was warned. When a teenage girl feuding with her mother gets run off the road by a unknown being, I heard her, just as it began to rain, segueing from a irate calls to screams, more and more desperate “Maman! Maman! Maman!!!” The car? It doesn’t start. The rain obscures anyone from view, as does the trunk her mother ignorantly poked around in. The cell phone shakes in her hand, and she can barely release a squeak, much less a “help.”

After the inevitable death, the film focuses on Lucas, a writer who does his best work playing arcade games, and Clementine, a frustrated primary school teacher. For a period of about fifteen minutes, the two exchange a stream of smooth and natural dialogue, in such a way I mistakenly started hoping that I would care what happened to them. After that, the script runs out of such dialogue, and settles on standard horror talk. I started laughing out loud at the banality of it, a bad sign with a film that wants to be taken this seriously.

“______!” (insert name, repeat 20-30 times.)
“I’ll go check.”
“What was that sound?”
“Don’t leave!”

The acting in the film is decent, the performers pounding on the one note the director brings to the table, mostly comprised of frightened shrieks and tear stained faces. The plot is a series of grotesque occurrences, putting the characters through horror and trauma. It’s plotlessness is “compensated” for with a couple of jumps (it barely succeeds). The slashers are barely frightening and completely nonsensical.

Simply put, it is a series of close escapes and killings, too premeditated and shallow to provoke much reaction.  I learned something, though. Nothing about safety, nothing about human nature. I learned that a film’s cool cover art, cinematic pedigree (foreign), and being spoken in a pretty language (French), does not make it very much superior to American money mongerers. Nor does it classify it as high film-making. That is all.

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