Them: The Scare TV Review

The second season of the Prime Video horror anthology boasts stellar performances but lacks the titular frights.

Last Updated on May 3, 2024

Them: The Scare review

PLOT: Set in 1991 Los Angeles, the story centers on LAPD Homicide Detective Dawn Reeve, who is assigned to a new case: the gruesome murder of a foster home mother that has left even the most hardened detectives shaken. Navigating a tumultuous time in Los Angeles, with a city on the razor’s edge of chaos, Dawn is determined to stop the killer. But as she draws closer to the truth, something ominous and malevolent grips her and her family…

REVIEW: The first season of Them debuted on Prime Video close to the one-year mark after COVID-19. Marketed as the small-screen continuation of Jordan Peele’s brand of big-screen horror, the series blended social commentary, political relevance, and disturbing imagery as it chronicled the Emory family’s move to Southern California. Led by a great performance by Deborah Ayorinde, Them (subtitled Covenant) was almost too violent for its own good. While I enjoyed the first season, I was intrigued to see where series creator Little Marvin could take the concept of Black Horror in subsequent chapters. The second volume, titled Them: The Scare, continues to mine the overarching themes of the anthology but with a much different approach to horror. Beautiful and haunting in its visuals with a pair of stellar leading performances, Them: The Scare only lacks the one thing it set out to be: scary.

Set four decades after Them: Covenant, this season is set in Los Angeles during the tumultuous period when the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots sent shockwaves through the country. With L.A. on edge and the police in the crosshairs for everyone, this tension makes for a perfect setting to kick off Them: The Scare. The series opens with a disturbing crime scene that introduces us to Detective Dawn Reeve, played by Deborah Ayorinde in a distinct role from her season one character. Here, Detective Reeve investigates a horrific death that no one else in the LAPD wants to be involved with. Reeve takes on the case, which irks racist colleague Detective Ronald McKinney (Jeremy Bobb) while allowing Reeve’s boss (Wayne Knight) to see if she can redeem herself after a controversial incident in her recent past. As Reeve dives into the crime, it elicits memories and nightmares from her past that connect to her mother, Athena (Pam Grier), and her son, Kel (Joshua J. Williams).

The series also follows Edmund Gaines (Luke James), an aspiring actor who works at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque restaurant. Gaines has a connection of his own to the crime, which also presents itself in a way that separates his narrative arc from Reeve’s, drawing parallels between them. Them: The Scare intertwines the plots of Reeve and Gaines in unique ways that analyze how the foster care system and the concept of nature versus nurture can alter the life trajectory of anyone in its path. It also allows the series to build two very different horror stories using imagery that echoes the tensions of Los Angeles in the early 1990s and various horrors throughout African American history. The approach to telling the story this season is awash in visuals that firmly entrench the tale in the last decade of the twentieth century and take advantage of period-appropriate music and the recently popular “analog horror” trend that gives the series a retro look with a hazy and dreamlike appearance straight off of an old VHS tape. The clean look of season one gives way to a much fuzzier but haunting visual style throughout this run of episodes.

Them: The Scare review

The look and style of Them: The Scare absolutely work wonders here as it evokes a visual palette that is as impressive as any feature film production. The costume design and effects work on horror elements, creating an immersive experience. The acting is also something to behold, especially from Ayorinde and James, who appear in virtually every scene of the eight-episode season. All the actors are well cast, with the legendary Pam Grier a welcome return to the screen despite being woefully under-utilized here. Grier is solid in every scene, but her limited screen time feels like a missed opportunity to give the actress a showcase and expand the story beyond what we end up getting. That seems to be a recurring issue with Them: The Scare, which still digs into the idea of Black horror but takes far too long to build up the tension without a satisfactory payoff. This is not to say that there are no scares in the season, but they are peppered throughout the episodes and never stick around long enough to really land the way the writers had hoped. The pacing is deliberately slow to try and build the burn that other atmospheric horror stories have used to their advantage, but Them: The Scare feels underwhelming.

Series showrunner Little Marvin weaves an intriguing concept that directly connects to the previous season, but I won’t divulge what they are here. Little Marvin has credits on two of the eight episodes, along with an all-new staff of writers, including Tony Saltzman and Malcolm M. Mays. Neither Scott Kosar, Sarah Cho, Beverly Okhio, and Matt Almquist worked on the first season. The series does feature Little Marvin directing an episode alongside returning helmers Craig William Macneil and Ti West, the latter directing the excellent final episode this season. Other directors include Axelle Caolyn (The Haunting of Bly Manor) and Guillermo Navarro (Preacher, Hannibal), adept at evoking the story’s tension. The ideas behind the mythology that builds this series are as evocative as the first season, but where Them: Covenant was brutal and in your face, The Scare aims to take a more subtle and ethereal sense of horror and dread. There are definitely grisly moments here and the scariest Raggedy Ann doll you will ever see, but Them: The Scare thinks it is more frightening than it actually is.

When you boldly call out The Scare in your subtitle, you better live up to your own hype. Unfortunately, as well-acted and beautifully filmed as this season is, it never delivers on being scary. There are scary moments, and individual images work out of context. Still, the languid pacing actually works against the horror by presenting a disjointed narrative that would have been far more terrifying had it been propulsive instead of a slow burn. Deborah Ayorinde once again delivers a strong leading performance, balanced by Luke James, which makes Them: The Scare worth checking out, but it does not work, as a whole, as well as last season. Still, where this anthology could go next hopefully builds on the creativity displayed in these first two runs and learns from their shortcomings.

Them: The Scare is now streaming on Prime Video.

Them: The Scare




About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been'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.