“Them” is a good title for a horror movie. Its vagueness is disconcerting, and in the right context it sounds menacing. Not you or me or us, but them, you know?
The movie “Them” — not to be confused with 1954’s “Them!,” which was about giant ants — is known by the slightly less ominous title “Ils” in its native France, but it still fits. In the story of a married couple whose house is beset by invaders late one night, we don’t know who “they” are. All we know is what the victims know: that whoever or whatever they are, they have murderous intentions.
The couple are Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen), both French but currently living in a rustic country house outside of Bucharest, Romania. Clementine works as a French teacher at one of the city’s high schools, while Lucas, an author, stays home and writes.
And there’s your exposition. We call this a “one-act” movie, meaning that instead of there being a story arc with rising action, conflicts, reversals, setbacks, new developments, and so forth, there is instead just this: It’s nighttime, and Clementine and Lucas’s house is attacked by “them.” Apart from a scary prologue involving different victims, and a few moments establishing what the protagonists do for a living, the movie is entirely summarized in that one sentence.
It’s an admirably efficient movie, in other words. Written and directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud (the duo already slated to remake the Hong Kong thriller “The Eye” next year), the film creates tension and dread better than a lot of more-complicated movies do, and the apprehension is almost unrelenting. The intruders — are there three of them? More? Less? — are silent except for a clicking noise we hear repeatedly. Clem and Lucas desperately try to escape them and flee to safety, taking us through every corner of their large house and its property in the process.
Moreau and Palud might have done a better job establishing the house beforehand, or at the very least explaining some of its more unusual characteristics — like a room full of plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling — when we encounter them. (I’m reminded of “Panic Room,” which did a fantastic job giving us a tour of the house so that we’d appreciate the layout and geography later, when the bad guys arrived.) Clem and Lucas know the house; we should know it, too, if we’re going to see the night’s events through their eyes.
At a scant 77 minutes, the film certainly doesn’t waste any time. Its simplicity may prevent it from being labeled a genre classic; repeat viewings surely would not bring out any nuances that were missed the first time. But as a one-time theatrical experience, it should scare the pee out of anyone.
B+ (1 hr., 17 min.; French with subtitles; )