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You don’t know who they are in Them, a thriller from French writer-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud—which makes the film feel more like an experiment in nerve-rattling minimalism than the true story it’s purported to be.
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After a frightening but ultimately useless intro, the film focuses on a French couple who realize they’ve come under attack in the middle of the night. Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) is a schoolteacher living with her scruffy writer boyfriend, Lucas (Michaël Cohen), in a cavernous if rickety mansion in Middle of Nowhere, Romania. (Perhaps they’re married, but with exchanges such as, “Are you sleepy, Mr. Sleepy?” they’re newlyweds at best.) After dinner one evening, she spends some time grading papers while he goes to bed. But soon Clémentine is waking Mr. Sleepy up, because Messrs. Intruders are outside making a racket and perhaps stealing her car. They investigate but soon shut themselves in, forced to take cover by aggressive beings armed with a flurry of flashlights and what sounds like evil noisemakers.
The remainder of the film’s 77 minutes is spent showing the couple hiding, searching, and being chased, while both they and the audience see no more than flashes of the attackers, who seem to be human but have that all-seeing, supernatural serial-killer third eye. It’s quite similar to the recent Vacancy—Bonamy even resembles that film’s star, Kate Beckinsale—and though it gets points for being less graphic, Them is overall a weaker film. For one, the couple may be trapped in their home, but it’s a place the size of Cleveland—whenever the characters take five minutes to walk from a bedroom to the front door, you imagine that there has to be an inner sanctum somewhere that would allow the victims to more effectively hide. Pacing is also a problem: Relying too frequently on long, silent scenes of waiting and lurking about, the directors aren’t good judges of when quiet tension gets boring.
If you haven’t seen Vacancy—or are sick of by-the-numbers slashers—Them is relatively enjoyable and often spooky. (Clémentine’s car in particular gets a few Christine-worthy scenes.) The big finish, though—well, it may not be what you’ve been dreaming up, but it’s not exactly a reveal on par with The Sixth Sense’s, either. And after such a measured buildup, a film that makes you go, “That’s it?!” is perhaps worse than one that was just bad all along.