Them TV Review

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Plot: Set in 1953, Them: Covenant follows a black family who, during the Second Great Migration, moves from North Carolina to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles. The family's idyllic home slowly transforms into an epicenter of evil forces, next-door and otherworldly, that threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them

Review: The last couple of years have seen a massive uptick in horror stories centered around the African-American experience. Starting with Jordan Peele's Get Out. feature films and television series have embraced the real world scary stories from the Civil Rights era coupled with supernatural elements to great effect. HBO tackled two excellent genre series in Damon Lindelof's Watchmen as well as Misha Green's Lovecraft Country. The next such series is Them from creator Little Marvin and executive producer Lena Waithe. While just as striking and scary, Them suffers from being released less than a year after Lovecraft Country which shares many of the same themes and visual traits ranging from racist-inspired ghosts, monstrous white people, and anachronistic music. Told over ten episodes, Them is still quite literally a haunting series worth checking out.

Them is designed to be an anthology with each season serving as a standalone tale. In keeping this first season, subtitled Covenant, limited to ten episodes, writer/creator Little Marvin has crafted a defined narrative with a concrete ending that doesn't leave things open for a sequel or continuation. Unlike similar anthology American Horror Story, Them will be thematically connected by the African-American experience which is full of worthy stories to tell. The difficulty is the shadow of Lovecraft Country which condensed the story spread over ten hours in Them into a single episode. While that particular episode covered the highlights of the ghouls and spirits haunting the Chicago house, Them explores the deeper aspects of the bright, idyllic suburbs of Los Angeles in the mid-20th century. Setting this season in East Compton before it became a primarily Black neighborhood, Them plays with what we know will eventually happen. it doesn't change the horrors of the events of the series, but it certainly illuminates the aftermath.

Them is made in such a way that echoes the works of Alfred Hitchcock as it opens with a stunning Saul Bass-inspired credit sequence before dropping us into the lives of Livia "Lucky" Emory (Deborah Ayorinde) and her husband, WWII veteran Henry Emory (Ashley Thomas). Along with their two daughters Ruby Lee and Gracie Bell, the Emory clan trade in their lives in the South for the sunny skies of California. A tragic event looms large over their lives in the form of a chilling sequence revisited through the series. Now trying to restart their lives in a new setting, they move into an all-White neighborhood overseen by Betty Wendell (Allison Pill), the suburban housewife of your nightmares. Through calculated plots to drive them out, the Emory family will face down the very real threat of racism. But, that is only half of the horrors this story has up its sleeve.

It would have served as enough for this series to use the human monsters as the sole antagonists, but as you may have gleaned from the trailers, there are actual monsters as well. The home that Henry Emory purchased was mysteriously on the market for a very long time and carries a basement full of horrors that sink into the already traumatized new residents. That aforementioned event that precipitated their move caused Livia to have a mental break and Henry suffers from PTSD from his war service. Already on the edge, their racist neighbors push them to the edge while the supernatural elements of this tale are almost unnecessary. Creator Little Marvin evokes similar visual evil as Lovecraft Country by using blackface and other shameful racist icons coupled with traditional horror elements. Javier Botet, the physical presence behind horrible creations ranging from the It films to Crimson Peak and Mama, is the manifestation of many of these scary specters.

This series has so much intensity that it should come as no shock that the first episode doesn't even take 10 minutes before ratcheting up the horror and then repeats it through the entire sixty-minute running time. There is an intention behind every choice on this series ranging from the brilliant direction, the crisp cinematography coupled with some unsettling camera work, to the soundtrack that ranks as one of the best in recent memory. But while there are many beats that may feel derivative thanks to what has premiered before it, Them shines thanks to the cast. While Ashley Thomas masterfully balances dealing with his war-torn past and keeping his family together, the one that helps this show shine is Deborah Ayorinde. Livia defies conventions of the genre and never settles into being a scream queen or a final girl but manages to circumvent genre cliches and tropes to become one of the most interesting horror characters in a long time.

Had Them premiered first, we likely would still have been praising Lovecraft Country for presenting a more sweeping and epic look at the horror genre through the lens of the African-American experience. But, Them still is a tightly structured combination of supernatural and human horror that manages to keep you glued for ten straight chapters. Every actor in this cast, especially the wonderfully disturbing Allison Pill, embraces the message of this series and dives deep into making this as traumatic and haunting an experience as possible. Some of the choices made by the creative team are somewhat over the top, but it all serves the overall narrative of the story. While this is an attempt to dissect racism through the conventions of the horror genre, it also succeeds in being a genuinely scary story. Them is a solid entry into a new anthology that will hopefully get scarier with each successive volume.

Them premieres on April 9th on Amazon Prime Video.

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Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.