January 20, 2008

THEM (2006) - French horror filmed in Romania

(2006, France, aka 'ILS')

On region 3 PAL DVD from Thailand (PMEG)

There haven't been many French horror films until recently. This is one of the 'new wave' of hard-hitting and effective genre movies from France, like Switchblade Romance (aka Haute Tension), The Ordeal (Calvaire) and even Brotherhood of the Wolf. It’s received quite a decent release worldwide, considering it’s a low-budget movie shot on video, and has been reviewed extensively, but I'd like to add the following...

A French couple have settled down in a large remote house on the outskirts of Bucharest, while teaching French in a Romanian high school. Little do they know, there's been a mysterious murder nearby, and at night it’s their turn to be victimised, frightened, then hunted…

The opening scene, of a car breaking down on a forest road, builds nicely to a somewhat cliched climax. The story then starts properly with Clementine (played by Olivia Bonamy, the star of offbeat comedy horror Bloody Mallory) returning home from work. After she goes to bed with her boyfriend, Lucas, the trouble begins. The movie builds atmosphere and panic pretty effectively from this early point in the film, all the way to the climax in a sustained barrage of suspense.

While the menace at first appears to be invisible and supernatural, as it's slowly revealed, the film takes on a different complexion, as much social comment as horror.

Purporting to be inspired by real events, this is most probably a ruse, overused by so many horror films that I now assume that they’re all lying. I can only trace the vaguest of links between the events described here and any actual ones. The viewer is therefore being needlessly encouraged to fear the same easy targets in society that the trashier newspapers also favour. Like any movie, the horror genre can be subversive or establishment – Them is definitely the latter.

While Hostel also chose to portray an actual village (this time in Slovakia) as a well-orchestrated killing machine, Them portrays Romania in a way completely at odds with the true horrors that the country has endured. All while getting a cheaper deal for shooting in Eastern Europe – very cheeky. Nowhere in Europe seems safe now, as even rural Ireland came off far worse in Shrooms, than the deep south did in John Boorman's infamous Deliverance (1972).

Any country is fair game for a horror movie location, but if Them is the only film you see that's been set in Romania, then that could easily shade your opinion of it. It's a very different matter for someone to make a horror film set in their own country. Similarly, this could easily have been shot in Romania while pretending to be in France.

But it’s an expertly made film. Indeed, the directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud have already been whisked to Hollywood to remake the Pang brothers’ classic The Eye. As an experience, I enjoyed Them to the last drop. But like many movies with twisted endings, it’s probably not one that can be enjoyed twice.

I bought this on DVD in Thailand early last year. It suffers from muddy compression in the shadows and a fairly soft picture, but has good English subs. It’s presented in 16:9, whereas elsewhere the film is detailed as being 2.35 widescreen (presumably looking more like the screengrab above). The Thai disc is completely no frills.

Them is also available on region 2 DVD in the UK, and will be released region 1 in the US in February.

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