CATEGORIES Foreign Language, Horror, Thrillers, SXSW, Mystery & Suspense, Theatrical Reviews, Cinematical Indie, Reviews, SXSW Film Festival, Cinematical
The ferocious French import known as both Ils and Them has no interest in slowing down or wandering around. It offers only the barest hints of character development and it doesn't have time to bother with subplots, red herrings or extraneous characters. It's just a stripped-to-the-bone stalker thriller in which two unfortunate souls spend one hellacious night trying to evade something extraordinarily murderous. (Or maybe someone, but I don't want to spoil the flick for you.)
The flicks opens with a fairly conventional stinger: a teenage girl and her mother run afoul of something deadly after suffering a nasty car accident. From there we meet a sweet-natured young teacher who's just about to head off and spend the weekend with her boyfriend in a rather isolated (and massive) house. And once the lights go out for the night, the action is just getting started.
Putting aside the first fifteen minutes or so, the 77-minute Them is basically just one long sequence of stalk, hide chase, stalk, hide, chase. (And I mean that in a good way.) That co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud are able to mount so much tension in so little time (while always keeping their antagonist(s) hidden from view) is pretty damn impressive. That they're able to keep that tension running for about 55 consecutive minutes is even more invigorating. Poor Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen) scurry through sewers, barricade in bathrooms, race over rooftops and barely stay one step ahead of their vicious pursuers. Even for a seasoned genre nerd like me, Them delivers quite a caffeinated jolt of intensity for an appreciably lengthy period of time.
The co-directors are clearly talented behind the lens. Their "based on actual events" movie delivers a cold, stark and isolated feel that permeates the early horrors and really settles in with some high-end claustrophobia by Act III. The leads are quite strong throughout, even though they're not required to do much more than run around, slam doors and flee for their freakin' lives every 93 seconds. And here's the best part: Them doesn't overstay its welcome. It breezes by and slaps you with some ice water and then scurries right out of the room. And that's a very good thing indeed. Even the quietly chilling finale is handled with creepy restraint.
I'd heard a few people leaving the screening unhappy about the movie's extra-brief running time and single-minded devotion to its one plot thread -- but to me that seems a silly thing to gripe about. Them is precisely as long as it needs to be, and the fact that it doesn't throw in a few arbitrary subplots just for the hell of it ... I think that's pretty damn admirable. Already a big hit on the festival circuit, Them led Moreau and Palud to a big-time gig remaking The Eye for Lionsgate, and I suspect they'll be as successful as the import movie-makers who gave us High Tension and Saw. There's a lot of talent behind the slickly minimalistic Them, and based on the directors' inaugural effort, I'm definitely looking forward to their future exploits.