Streamer: Amazon Prime Video
Length: 10 x episodes (40-55 minutes each)
The horror genre tends to move in cyclical trends, adopting a new style and repeating it until it falls out of favour, only to start up again once enough time has passed. You can see it in the endless remakes and reboots of old movies and the fact there are FOURTEEN (!) Halloween films, and confusingly three of them are just called Halloween!
Point is, when horror finds a style it likes, you can expect to see it repeat a whole bunch.
With Jordan Peele’s megahit Get Out, genre films that centred the Black experience began to appear. Sometimes they were great: Peele’s own Us and His House from Remi Weekes are superb, whereas Antebellum is a stylish flick in desperate need of a decent script.
Joining this trend is Little Marvin’s Them, an anthology horror show starting April 9 on Amazon Prime Video, that is guaranteed to get under your skin in ways both good and bad.
Them’s first season is set in 1950s America and focuses on the Emorys, an African American family - comprising father Henry (Ashley Thomas), mother Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde), eldest daughter Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and youngest Gracie (Melody Hurd) - who have moved from North Carolina to the all-white neighbourhood of Compton, long before NWA put in an appearance.
The milky-hued neighbours of the Emorys are, to put it mildly, none too pleased about the new additions to their neighbourhood and before long a cruel campaign to scare off the Emorys is put into action.
The thing about Them is, it’s shockingly effective. Even before the supernatural shenanigans occur, the sheer unsettling behaviour of these denizens of Unpleasantville will likely have you turning on a lamp or reaching for a stiff drink.
Lead by the angelic and sweet-looking Betty Wendell (Alison Pill playing very much against type), these caucasian crusaders are vile in every way, offering malice and hatred disguised with a pastel outfit and a toothy smile.
And it’s not like life outside of the neighbourhood is all puppies and kittens either. Henry’s new job as an engineer is beset with continual PTSD triggers for the WWII vet and Ruby’s school experience is nightmarish in the truest sense of the word.
Frankly, Them so effectively executes the real life horrors of bigotry and racism, the more traditional monsters are something of a relief.
Performances are solid across the board, with Ashley Thomas making a very compelling lead and Alison Pill - who until now tended to be the obligatory, quippy quirky girl - convinces as a pretty hate machine.
The other thing about Them, though, is that it’s stylish, gorgeously shot and well-acted… but it sure ain’t subtle. Every episode has the tension cranked up to such a high degree, with each character existing in extreme dismay, fear or anger, that you may find yourself suffering from intensity overload.
Put simply, Them is one of the most consistently unsettling experiences around, guaranteed to put a fright up even the most seasoned of genre veterans. Whereas Get Out had a light touch, a subversive streak of satire, and Lovecraft Country a brisk sense of adventure, Them is more one note, even if it’s played very skillfully.
The result is bleak, confronting and probably not a lot of fun if you try to binge it all at once.
However, savoured like a bottle of expensive plonk or very rich chocolate, Them is a superbly-executed dismay rollercoaster and an African American horror story that will stay with you like a lingering shadow long after the credits have rolled.
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