After Jordan Peele’s 2017 smash hit, Get Out, race-related films became a common occurrence in the horror genre. Amazon Prime’s latest production, Them, is the latest addition to this niche genre.
Them is an anthology series that explores the terrors in America. This is the first season of the series.
It is set in 1953, just before the start of the Civil Rights Movement. It follows the ten days after a black family moves from the southern part of America to an idyllic all-white neighbourhood in hopes of a better, more successful life around more tolerant people.
Henry Emory (Ashley Thomas), a World War II veteran and an engineer gets a well-paying job in the city and moves with his wife Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde) and daughters Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie (Melody Hurd).
Unfortunately, they find out that people of their race are unwelcome there. The neighbours are plotting and scheming to drive them out of their home while unknown supernatural malevolent forces threaten to destroy their lives as they know it.
Deborah Ayorinde essays the role of Lucky Emory. She is traumatised by past events and has several issues plaguing her. Ayorinde’s performance is unpredictable and volatile all the while keeping us vested in her character. She is the protagonist of the series and rightfully gives a terrific performance.
Ashley Thomas plays Henry Emory, a World War II veteran who narrowly escaped certain death. As a result, he has severe PTSD all the while he has to keep his family from falling apart. He is vindictive and headstrong. Thomas’ performance is riveting and brutal. He gives a loud performance that perfectly suits his character and his conflicts.
Shahadi Wright Joseph plays the teenage daughter of Henry and Lucky, Ruby. She is lonely, isolated, equally traumatised but determined not to let the trauma get to her. She is a strong, staunch character and excellently played by Joseph. Joseph is best known for her role in Jordan Peele’s Us (2019), another racial horror film revolving around a black family. While both characters her characters in Us and Them are similar, she continues to give a great performance.
Alison Pill plays Betty Wendell the hateful, controlling leader of the suburban community that the family shifts to. Betty is troubled by her empty life without a child, in a loveless marriage. She fears that her home is being snatched away unfairly by the Emorys who will inevitably ruin her way of life. Pill is brilliant in her role. She is despicable, dominating and repulsive but also has surprising depth for the racist villain of the series.
However, the most surprising performance is delivered by the nine-year-old, Melody Hurd who plays the youngest daughter of the Emory family, Gracie. She is beyond brilliant and believable in such a horrifying show. There were no faults in her performance despite her tender age which goes to show the extent of her talent.
The rest of the cast, especially the supernatural entities played by Jeremiah Birkett and Christopher Heyerdahl, were outstanding as well.
Them has been created and written by newcomer Little Marvin. The writing of the characters of the main family is excellent. They all have specific individual arcs that work well.
The production design is beautiful and eerie at the same time. Along with the colour grading and the tone, the series looks usually looks great. Cinematographer Checco Varese is constantly innovating in the camerawork and takes wildly creative shots which often add a lot to the scenes.
The series uses several songs. They add emotion to the scenes and give the lyrics new context due to the events being witnessed on screen.
Them is a brutal, unforgiving series that shows the family suffering from increasingly traumatising events one after the other. The problem begins when the audience begins to get numb to the actions shown on screen. 10 hours of racial slurs and violent verbal and physical assaults merely showing how purely evil racists of the 1950s were without much else, gets cumbersome.
The slow pacing and repetitive points do not help get through the painfully long runtime. The series would have worked far better as a feature-length film.
To add to the surface level exploration of the subject matter, the racist white characters are tropes without real depth. Betty is probably the only character with some depth and considerable screentime. Unfortunately, her solo screentime adds nothing to the series and in fact detaches us from the events.
Although Varese’s cinematography was inventive, constantly moving shots, even during simple conversations, during the first half of the series, were nauseating and detracted attention from the series.
Them also uses umpteen horror tropes and cliches. From the mundane jumpscares to over the top horror audio cues and background score, Them uses it all.
Them would have worked out better if it had fewer characters with more depth that was explored in the confines of the story itself while having a much shorter runtime.
Them is a gory, graphic, painful exploration of the suffering that real families faced simply due to the pigmentation of their skin. It is a great watch for anyone who has the stomach and patience to sit through it.