• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Them- Review

ByBella Smith

May 18, 2021

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The new horror anthology reminiscent of Hereditary, Get Out and His House 

Them is understandably a controversial series. It is the first instalment of (hopefully many) a horror anthology series produced by Little Marvin and Lena Waithe. Picture American Horror Story, but black people are front and centre; it tackles social, specifically racial issues, head on.  Them tracks the first 10 days of the Emory family moving from North Carolina to Compton, LA, which was at the time an all-white neighbourhood, during the Great Migration. As they try to settle into their new home and new lives, they discover that (unsurprisingly) their neighbours are vile racists that try to drive them out of their ‘pristine’ suburb, and that there are also supernatural forces at play even more dedicated to destroying them. 

The main source of controversy surrounding the series of whether the depiction of black trauma is gratuitous. There are a lot of moments that are difficult to watch and a few uncomfortably real moments that I wanted to fast forward through, but I think that these scenes contributed a lot to building the narrative. I am not an American so I don’t have an intimate understanding of what it means to be black in the US and so I don’t claim to be an authority on whether or not it is too triggering.  I disagree with Vulture’s description of the series as “degradation porn” or “anti-Black”, I think that through these uncomfortable scenes, Them was able to add to help me to contextualise my own experiences and further develop my black consciousness. A lot of moments were eerily reminiscent of my experiences of growing up black in Britain in the 21st century, and experiences that both my grandparents and parents have talked about. I cannot say how the series did this without giving spoilers, but I found that it raised excellent points about how racism shapes the psyche of both children and adults. 

What struck me the most was that the social horror and what their neighbours inflicted on them was leaps and bounds worse than the supernatural element could ever be. In an interview, Little Marvin said that he was influenced by Hitchcock, The Shining and Carrie.  As a horror enthusiast and a Kubrick fan, I have watched The Shining more than a few times in my life and I certainly see the influence. There is one notable difference, I have never found The Shining scary, or Carrie, or The Birds. I struggle to suspend disbelief with horror films, I do not believe in the supernatural, so they do not scare me since theri events could never happen in real life. I love these films for the gorgeous cinematography. I also struggle to empathise with characters in horror films when they do not make choices that I would have made, like sure you are just gonna hide in a creepy dark room by yourself even though you know there is an axe murder loose in your house – that’s a smart choice.

Them posed none of these problems for me. It was terrifying because the racism they faced was so real as were the choices that they made; I sincerely doubt I would be able to make better ones. Them became even more terrifying when I considered that the supernatural forces might just be stress induced hallucinations.  People often compare Them to Us, probably because both have pronouns as titles and focus on a black family of four. However, thematically Them is more similar to Get Out in it’s exploration of blackness in the US and in the way and the reasons that it is so haunting. 

The choice to set the show in Compton was powerful. Compton is a neighbourhood in South Central LA, which is considered a predominantly black and minority area by the entire world. For example, the Williams sisters grew up there, Megan Markle’s mother grew up there, Friday (1995) is set-in South-Central LA so if it is not in Compton, it is in the vicinity of it, and N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton (that one is self-explanatory). It is a neighbourhood which, like Harlem, I never imagined as anything other than predominantly black, but also holds a special place in our perception of black culture for both people living in the US and out of it.  It’s one of those things that is obvious if you think about it, but I never stopped to think about it, so it never occurred to me. Them also shines a light on the racist mechanisms by which what was once a middle-class suburb, came to be the infamous, violent neighbourhood in Straight Outta Compton.

Them was as informative as it was terrifying. It made me re-examine my understanding of a lot of issues and deepen my knowledge on the period, in a way that very few works of horror are able to. It was a lot, and just like Get Out, it will stay with me for years to come.  I enjoyed Them enormously, but I should warn that if the show lacks anything, it is adequate trigger warnings. If you are planning to watch beware and be kind to yourself!

Image: Roo Reynolds via Flickr