Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 3/5
Ever since Jordan Peele’s Get Out, there’s been a swarm of racism-related horrors – and for good reason too. Racism is inherently terrifying and something minorities across the globe have had to endure at some point in their lives.
However, much like the found footage craze of the mid 2000’s, this motif does sometimes struggle to stand out from the masses. From Lovecraft Country and The Terror: Infamy through to Us and His House, our media has been awash with highlighting this continued struggle for equality.
Them then is an interesting project in many ways. Artistically presented, and drawing on all the hallmarks that make Jordan Peele horrors so intriguing, the 10 episodes are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to horror and thrills.
On the one hand, Them does produce some compelling jump scares and its racism is every bit as shocking and horrifying as one may expect. At the same time though, the show bungles its supernatural elements with a story that feels torn between being a social commentary of our times and a supernaturally charged spook-fest.
What we’re left with then is a mixed bag of quality – but one that’s enjoyable in small doses and completely captivating from the opening episode through to the finale.
As someone who’s used to binging through these shows and writing out recaps in quick succession, I found myself having to stop and take breaks simply because the material here is so hard-hitting. If you sit down to watch this one don’t be surprised if you need more than a few sittings to finish this one.
The horrifying ride begins by whisking us off to the heart of 1950’s America. A black family known as the Emory’s move into the quaint, all-white town of East Compton. Once there, they immediately find themselves subjected to racial abuse from their neighbours. Husband Henry is determined to make a go of it despite this, working as an engineer and making good money in the process.
Lucky is the real abuse victim, serving as the housewife and subjugated to much of the flack from her neighbours outside. However, she certainly comes with a good amount of feistiness too and refuses to take this lying down.
Older daughter Ruby attends school and finds herself abused by the other kids while Gracie attends kindergarten, only to be stalked by a menacing figure known simply as Mrs Vera. These four characters form the spine of this horror/thriller, as each begin experiencing visions and frightening supernatural occurrences.
Blended into this though is the racism which is channeled through the cruel, narrowing gaze of neighbour Betty. She’s determined to keep the neighbourhood as (what she perceives anyway) an all-white paradise and certainly doesn’t take kindly to Lucky and the others moving in.
Across the season her story starts promisingly enough before being completely squandered late on through some questionable twists. Again, no spoilers but the early season juxtapositions to Lucky’s fate is really where this show is at its strongest.
As we soon come to learn, a traumatic, heartbreaking moment from the Emory’s past is what seems to have caused their grief and anxiety. When it’s revealed what actually took place in North Carolina, you’ll feel sick, disgusted and absolutely heartbroken. It’s also one of the toughest scenes I’ve watched from any TV show this year.
That unfortunately is the biggest crux to this 10 episode series. At times, Them moves beyond its shock into full-on torture and these scenes go on for far too long. I won’t write out what happens but this shift into violence ultimately overpowers the balance, eventually dissolving into a distorted message where innocent people die at the hands of our protagonists.
This is a real problem too and it extends out to the actual horror elements here. Early on, Them includes some genuinely creepy and unnerving scenes. Lingering shots of shadowy corners and unsettling zoomed shots work so well and crescendo into some delightful jump scares.
The phrase “show don’t tell” comes to mind here though, as Them heeds this advice and turns on the lights far too quickly. In doing so, it shows what’s really lurking in those proverbial corners.
The jump scares and atmospheric horror eventually slips away in favour of the racist horror and aforementioned twisted torture. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still effective but it’s less of a conventional horror and more of a suffocating thriller, taking what works so well in The Handmaid’s Tale and dialing it up to 11.
While the story is a bit of a mixed bag, the acting and aesthetic most certainly are not. The camera work, music and visual design are absolutely stunning.
Several times in each episode I found myself pausing and marveling at some of the artistic shots. From split screens, fade edits and discordant brass instrument stings, everything here feeds into an almost Hitchcockian feel. Props to the team behind this though, they really have done a fantastic job making Them one of the most artistically unique show released this year.
The acting from all involved is great too, with each member of the family given time in the spotlight. Both Deborah Ayorinde and Ashley Thomas are sublime in their lead roles and really channel that inner turmoil and grief they carry across the first season. It’s very easy to become captivated by their performances and the aforementioned aesthetic works in tandem to hide some of the plot inconsistencies.
Them is undoubtedly a uniquely stylized and fascinating series but its tepid supernatural spooks oftentimes jar with the horrific racism it portrays. The result is a show that can’t quite decide how it wants to play things, eventually leading to a flatlined second half and a polarizing ending.
THEM launches on 9th April on Amazon Prime Video