REVIEW / OPINION SERIES – The first season of the horror anthology “Them” centers on the Emories, an African-American family terrorized by the white community of Compton in the 1950s.
Them : Compton’s Most Wanted
When the teaser of Them, comparisons with Us rocketed. Besides the fact that the two tracks seem to respond to each other, this trailer distorted the track The Windmills of Your Mind to lengthen it and draw from it agonizing repetitions, as the one in Jordan Peele’s horror film did with I Got 5 On It by Luniz.
Reused springs that may suggest a lack of originality the series developed by Little Marvin and produced by actress Lena Waithe, creator of The Chi and screenwriter of Queen & Slim. But these similarities are limited to promotional material and Them has no trouble finding his own identity, adopting a radically different tone from that of the feature film.
This program, divided into ten episodes, is spread over a period of ten days. Ten days in which Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde) and Henry Emory (Ashley Thomas) will live a real hell with their two daughters after moving to East Compton in 1953. When they thought they were fleeing Jim Crow laws and North Carolina racism, the African-American family was immediately taken to task by their white neighbors.
The small bourgeois community led by the disturbing Betty Wendell (Alison Pill) will multiply acts of persecution, convinced of being able to exclude newcomers from their beloved neighborhood. In addition to having to face these insane residents, the Emories are victims of terrifying and increasingly frequent visions in this environment which also seems to want to reject them.
A broken family
In his way of summoning the horror register to evoke the consequences of the racism that has plagued the United States since its creation, Them gets closer to Candyman than’Us. The series never lends itself to irony. Rather, it imposes itself as a fantastic drama with great tragic overtones, like the Bernard Rose film adapted from Clive Barker.
The first episode opens with a chilling scene. An introduction that reveals the mental state of the four main characters upon their arrival in Compton. The family is haunted by an event whose late revealed finality is predictable. Which does not prevent it from being appalling.
The absence of surprise vis-à-vis pains of emory, all suffering from post-traumatic stress, here plays in favor of the narrative. The latter relies on the necessary acceptance of their own demons to confront those who attempt to enslave them in their new home, whether they take the form of a ravaged neighbor or aa ghost lurking in the cellar.
The Emories flee from hatred but also a terrible pain by leaving the segregationist state. To ultimately find the same hatred in the “modern” suburbs of Los Angeles, where real estate developers control the population and take advantage of the division between citizens to enrich themselves. A situation already deepened in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, with many exciting similarities to Them, starting with the presentation of an extremely touching family torn by the weight of the past, as shown in the program posters.
The American nightmare
Over the episodes, the polished aesthetic associated with this impeccable suburb is soiled. The discomfort continues to grow and some images are particularly distressing. This is the case of the conclusion of episode 8 directed by Ti West, director revealed with the promising The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers.
Behind the colorful wallpaper and varnish hide mold and sheer horror, stemming from 400 years of history of a country born in violence and advocating individualism. Episode 9 of Them is precisely a leap in the previous century. He attacks to the dangers of dogmatism and its disastrous consequences, and obviously still current.
If the monstrosity was more or less concealed, it appears openly in the second half of this first season, without falling into complacency. Not to show the unbearable would have simply been dishonest. Them manages to break the suspense at the right time to devote himself to the Emories long struggle against their fears and oppressors.
This is what encourages the Tap Dance Man, a clown as frightening as it is fascinating brilliantly embodied by Jeremiah Birkett. This vestige of the past perfectly sums up all the complexity of Them and his characters …