Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: A Black family moves to an all-white Los Angeles neighbourhood where malevolent forces, next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our mindsBob Marley, Redemption Song
The lyrics of Marley’s famous song came to mind while I was digesting the last two episodes of Them, an Amazon original series that takes place during a period of time in American History, specifically Black American History, known as the Great Migration. This was a time when segregation in the South and the spread of racist ideology caused a massive rise in lynchings as well as a lack of opportunities for black people living in the southern states.
These families (or at least the ones that could afford to) relocated to areas like Chicago, Los Angeles and other major cities. This migration brought issues of their own of course, and Them takes these issues and shows them through a lens of horror that crawls under your skin and into your mind in a way that will probably leave viewers very divided on the series as a whole. Here’s my spoiler-free review:
The Emory family relocates to Compton, California for a fresh start and hopefully a better life after experiencing what can only be described as the worst nightmare of their lives. They move into an all-white neighbourhood and are immediately made to feel unwelcome by their “neighbours”. Leading the charge is the seemingly perfect blonde homemaker Betty Windell (Allison Pill of Scott Pilgrim vs, The World, Star Trek: Picard) a woman who is deeply unhappy and whose “crazy eyes” tell us there’s a whole lot more going on under that perfectly-coifed surface. These outward attacks are bad enough as it is, but the family’s new home also seems to hold its own horrors as each member, including daughters Ruby and Gracie, are all being haunted by a malevolent force intent on destroying them from within.
The absolutely stunning and talented actress Deborah Ayorinde leads the charge here as Lucky, matriarch of the Emory family. Ironically, she’s anything but lucky, and Ayorinde’s performance is so damn good you’ll never take your eyes off her when she’s on screen.
Ashley Thomas brings shades of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance to mind with his portrayal of Henry Emory, a World War I veteran suffering with PTSD who lives with the nightmare of being experimented on by the US military, the same military he signed up with to defend his country. He’s a man who is doing everything he can to build a better life for his family, but who also battles everyday with the rage he hides beneath the surface. Both actors are the backbone of this series and both pull you into their lives to the point where you’re terrified not just for what they’ve been through but for where they seem to heading, as the emotional traumas of their past dig into their present in violent and disturbing ways.
Show creator Little Marvin said he wanted to make a movie akin to Alfred Hitchcock’s work, but utilising black characters in a way actors like these would never have been allowed to work in those classic films. I didn’t get Hitchcock at all. For me it was more like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as viewers watch a family where each member has their own trauma, and then those traumas are used against them by evil forces to break their spirits and their minds.
To dig a bit deeper, there’s a lot being said here about the actual trauma and real fear that black families had to live with (and still do) in a world where systemic racism in various forms, both the individual (burning N-word Heaven on to their lawn, hanging golliwogs by nooses on their porches) and conglomerates (the banks placing enormous interest rates on loans, forcing these families into mortgages they will never be able to pay off), is being used to destroy black families and create horrible living conditions for them. However, it can be argued using a sledgehammer instead of a pen to convey this message can cause the message in and of itself to get lost.
A good example of this is in Episode 5: Covenant. I won’t give away the details, but what occurs here explains why the family left Georgia and it’s a scene so horrific, it will stick with you long after you’ve forgotten most of this show.
Utilising horror to this extent to tell a story such as this might be considered way too gratuitous by many a viewer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are viewers out there who would argue a more subtle approach, say, like that of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, is a much better way to explore the themes of racism in America. For a horror fan such as myself, I tried to focus on just that—the horror of Them. For me, the series does a great job of building an atmosphere that leaves you creeped out and uncomfortable the more time went by.
I didn’t find The Shining scary, but I did find it engaging, and the same can be said about Them. It’s disturbing to watch, relentlessly menacing in tone, and builds towards a helluva conclusion. It may not be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of horror series like American Horror Story, I see no reason why you won’t be satisfied by Them.
Sommer’s Score: 7 out of 10
So what did you think of Them? For my review of Get Out you can click here. Or for another racism-themed supernatural horror series you can check out Editor Jules’s review of Lovecraft Country by clicking here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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