Them, created by Little Marvin, tells the story of the Emory family which moves to Compton, California for the sake of a better life. But upon reaching there, they learn that it is a predominantly White neighborhood notorious for pushing out African-Americans from there. In addition to dealing with that, the family also has to face their own demons from their past and possibly something supernatural as well. The show is powered by exceptional performances from its cast, mind-blowing in-camera visual effects, and plot beats with present-day parallels that will definitely get under the viewer’s skin.
Disclaimer: This review of Them is based on the first two episodes of the show that were screened at the SXSW Film Festival 2021.
I live in India. So, I am in no way equipped to talk about the African-American experience in any way. So, let me set the stage a little differently because discrimination is universal. Recently, a Muslim boy in India was beaten up brutally by a Hindu man for drinking water from a temple. After the attacker was arrested, Hindus came out in support and spun a story that the Muslim boy was there to steal. In another part of India, the use of loudspeakers for prayers in mosques has been banned by the authorities. And this is only a small fraction of the discrimination the Muslim community faces while the mainstream media and those in power state that there’s no such thing as Islamophobia and also justify their bigotry by saying that the things that they’re doing are for the “betterment of the country”. It’s this othering that Them is all about.
The web series is co-produced by Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Studios is created by Little Marvin. The directors involved are Nelson Cragg, Craig William Macneill, Ti West, Janicza Bravo, and Daniel Stamm, and the episodes are written by Marvin, Dominic Orlando, Francine Volpe, Christina Ham, David Matthews, and Seth Zvi Rosenfeld. It is executive produced by Lena Waithe, Don Kurt, Miri Yoon, David Matthews, and Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment, and its associated producers are Lee Frost and Liya Gao. The cinematography is by Xavier Grobet, editing by David Kashevaroff, music by Mark Korven, Randall Poster, and Meghan Currier, production design by Tom Hammock, costume design by Mari-An Ceo, casting by Junie Lowry Johnson and Libby Goldstein, VFX by Hnedel Maximore, and Art Codron, and special effects coordination by Roy K. Cancino. And it features Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Melody Hurd, Alison Pill, and more.
I think that Them is going to be compared with other horror IPs that have depicted the African American experience like Get Out, Us, His House, and Lovecraft Country. And with that comparison will come the dumbass critique that it’s unrealistic. Well, let me talk a little bit about that without hopefully spoiling the show. When something like Them uses horror as its base, it attempts to emulate the feeling of being discriminated against by the majority community instead of reading out the definition of what discrimination means from the dictionary. Racists are monsters but they don’t literally look like the ones we’ve read about in fairy tales. But to those who face their wrath, they look like those monsters as well. So, what’s the point behind “humanising” them? The plain answer is that there are none and every racist piece of shit needs to depicted as the monster that they are under their human skin.
When you see White people or any bigoted community, from their perspective, of course, they are going to seem fine. Because they’ve rationalised their behaviour. But when you see them from any other point of view, my lord is it annoying as well as scary. I get it, it was like that in the ’50s. Are you going to say that it’s any different now when you see the United States of America through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent rise in Asian hate crimes over there? I don’t think so. However, Them sends a hard-hitting message to counter that: no more running. The odds might be against you, every single day might be hard as hell, and it might seem like you’re living your nightmare every day, but running will make it worse. You have to stand your ground and even if more don’t join you, your resolve will grow stronger.
Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Melody Hurd’s performances are mind-blowing. There is a pie-eating sequence that you should look out for. It’s going to wreck you if you have a functional heart. I was legit holding my face in my hands because the emotions in those frames were too hard to digest. The production design is immaculate. Marvin is clearly not afraid to swing for the fences with his visual storytelling. The camera moves in such dynamic ways. There are so many split diopter shots. The colour-grading is so perfect (I know these are basic stuff that you should expect from a show or a movie. But if you have seen as many movies and shows as I have, you’ll know that they are actually pretty hard to come by). I am not a big fan of the jump scares in it. I prefer the unsettling altercations and moments of psychological torture more.
I am desperate to see the rest of the episodes of Them. I think that its relevance is very evident and you can say that there have been many movies and shows like it. But here’s the problem: racists still exist. If racism vanished from the face of the Earth and filmmakers were still making movies and shows about racism, maybe I would’ve said that we have seen enough. However, it is not going, man. And from the looks of it, it’s not going to go away very soon. So please, let’s have more movies and shows like Them until we as a species decide to bring an end to discrimination of all sorts.
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Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India
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