Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #127
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: July 19, 2006
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: France/Romania
Running Time: 77 minutes
Directors: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Producers: Frédéric Doniguian, Richard Grandpierre, Bogdan Moncea, Vlad Paunescu
Screenplay: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Special Effects: Melania Ciurlin, Ionel Popa
Cinematography: Axel Cosnefroy
Score: René-Marc Bini
Editing: Nicolas Sarkissian
Studios: Eskwad, StudioCanal, Castel Film Romania, Canal +, CinéCinéma
Distributors: Metrodome Distribution, Slowhand Cinema Releasing, Dark Sky Films, Mars Distribution
Stars: Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen, Adriana Moca, Maria Roman, Camelia Maxim, Alexandru Boghiu, Emanuel Stefanuc, Horia Ioan, Stefan Cornic, George Iulian
Suggested Audio Candy
Colonel Abrams “Trapped”
Home sweet home. It’s hard to imagine three more consoling words than these. We’ve all been there, embarked on a twelve-hour flight across the globe, plus any additional transit time this entails, and felt as though our will to live is starting to dwindle. Once we finally complete the final leg of our journey, slide the keys into the lock and step inside, the first thing that rushes to greet us is an overwhelming sense of relief. We’ve made it back to the one place in the world where our happiness cannot be compromised and there are few feelings in the world quite as consoling as that.
You see, one’s home is a place of sanctuary. Should we have had a wretched day and just want to escape from it all, then these comfy confines provide the very solitude we crave. The moment that door shuts behind us and we locate those carpet slippers, the worries of the world need no longer rest squarely on our shoulders and any insufferable assholes we been forced to endure can no longer bring us down. Here we are both master and commander and, should slouching on the sofa with our junk out appeal, then that’s nobody else’s business but our own. Above all else, the one feeling that should wash over us is one of tranquility. No need to shake those fists or engage in ridiculously counter-productive pastimes such as punching holes in our own fixtures and fittings. We are impervious to danger here.
While a new home can initially feel somewhat cold and uninviting, this soon passes once we make the place our own. Over time we build a rapport with our residence, decipher every last one of its nuances and memorize its entire infrastructure from top to bottom. Solitude aside, it also protects us stoutly, this glorious safe haven of ours. Indeed, should our home be situated out of earshot of the constant buzz of civilization, then that’s just an added bonus right? Actually, this is not necessarily the case. Peace and quiet is all well and good, but what about safety in numbers? How about when we run out of sugar and there are no nearby neighbors on hand to bail us out? Suddenly things don’t appear quite so idyllic.
Take Lucas (Michaël Cohen) and his significant other Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) for example. Having recently relocated from their native France to a remote country house in Bucharest, Romania, they have nobody whatsoever to call on in the event of an emergency. Speaking of which, their serenity appears to have been compromised. Somebody, more than likely plural, has seen fit to invade their privacy and with only the cruelest of intentions. To make matters worse, their car has been stolen, all phones are disconnected, and their link to the outside world is severed. Suddenly, their happy home is looking anything but and, what was spacious, is now insular and suffocating. Every last shadow is laced with consternation, the room filled with hanging linen no longer smells quite so fragranced, and sunrise feels like an eternity away.
David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Them (or Ils as it is known in its native country) wastes little time in pulling the rug from beneath our feet. At a mere 77 minutes in duration, time is not on their side, thus they don’t concern themselves with narrative. Instead, they constricts us early doors, then tighten that grip increasingly as the couple’s thankless plight continues to worsen. Any potential language barriers are utterly redundant as, like Alexandre Aja’s similarly breathless Haute Tension, dialogue is at a distinct premium and it focuses solely on survival instinct. However, while Aja’s only held his protagonist captive in his rural prison for his opening act, fresh country air is a luxury that Lucas and Clémentine don’t have at their disposal.
Moreover, Moreau and Palud keep us on a tight leash throughout, upholding ambiguity for as long as is humanly possible, and offering only the vaguest indication as to who or what is skulking in these dark recesses. Once the barracks have been breached, they ratchet the tension up to thirteen, and use the ominous intimacy of their locale to do the rest. Director of photography Axel Cosnefroy makes the most of the light and shade at his disposal and ensures that we too are jumping at shadows, while audio is also critical to our investment and René-Marc Bini’s probing score is used sparingly and effectively throughout. Meanwhile, both leads convey their spiraling desperation commendably. Indeed, Bonamy actually suffers from claustrophobia and this adds an extra layer of authenticity to her performance.
Once every last drop of tension has been wrung from the scenario and the screw turned sufficiently, it is time for Moreau and Palud to enlighten us as to what this threat actually consists of and the reveal is not necessarily one we will have seen coming. My lips will remain tightly sealed as ignorance is agonizing bliss on this occasion. There have been an over-abundance of home invasion movies over the past decade and, ultimately, Them does precious little that we haven’t seen done before. That said, it’s all about the execution, and I have a pair of sweaty palms and an accelerated heartbeat to show for spending 77 minutes cooped up in this particular manor. Suddenly, home isn’t looking quite so sweet after all.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: If you’re looking for a body count, then you won’t be finding it here as Moreau and Palud have no intention of supplying on this front. That said, while there may be no blood to splash around in, you may still be wringing out your linen come the end credits as Them provides a sturdy test for those antiperspirants.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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