SXSW Review Amazon’s Them Is A Timely Horrifying Anthology Vision
Amazon’s Them, which premiered at SXSW, is truly terrifying. It is one of those experiences that creeps in and has the power to change minds.
Amazon’s new anthology series Them is set to debut on April 9th. The series’s first two episodes which screened as part of SXSW, were easily some of the best of the festival. They captured the deep-seated wrongness that still lives in those that react from fear and ignorance instead of empathy. Combined with an old-school horror element that is as scary as anything you will see this year, Them is sure to be a hit.
The first season is set in 1950’s America during the Great Migration. Between 1916 and 1970, six million African Americans left the rural South for cities in the North, Midwest, and West. Driven by a need to find better economic situations and avoid the harsh segregation laws of the South African Americans encountered racism and hardship. Them uses that constant oppressive fear to permeate the supernatural thriller that is as terrifying because of the human monsters as the paranormal ones. Evil takes many forms.
It’s hard for white suburbanites to understand the marginalized, the underprivileged, and the abused. A lot of Boomers put their prejudice right out there for everyone to see. The Gen Xers want to be left alone. We were the ones who were questioned and controlled out of our childhood. Don’t play Dungeons and Dragons; you might entice Satan. No matter that the dorks(calm down, I was one of them) who are playing are the least likely to do anything criminal or even dangerous. God forbid you listen to 2 Live Crew or NWA; you might question your own reality. We know what racism looks like. We also know there is less of us than the Boomers who are just now beginning to retire.
The Zoomers and the Millennials scream into the night for justice while feeling powerless to change anything. We can all comfortably sit behind our screens and champion for a better cause, but none of us truly know what that kind of fear feels like. Amazon’s Them makes you feel that terror. The oppression of an innocent family looking for a better life. Them starts with that intense premise and layers it with ghosts and Evil of all kinds.
The cast, which primarily consists of people of color, is outstanding. Deborah Ayorinde(Girls Trip), who plays Lucky Emory, is a strong woman who has endured something terrible and come out the other side. She also was the one to bring her husband back from the brink. Her husband Henry, played by Ashley Thomas(Black Mirror), shows an incredible amount of controlled rage in intense scenes of severe pain. There is nothing contrived about his performance. Teenage daughter Ruby, Shahadi Wright Joseph, who you lost saw in Jordan Peele’s Us, has easily one of the most harrowing scenes and handles it with such brilliant vulnerability it is hard not to cry. Five-year-old Gracie Jean is played by adorable Melody Hurd(Fatherhood). She is perhaps the most equipped to handle what is happening to her family.
This is a family we root for. They are vibrant and likable from the first moments. By contrast, their neighbors are pastel nightmares spewing hatred and mistrust. In only the first two episodes, there is are some harrowing scenes of the paranormal and all the human variety. If the bubbling grave and shadowy basement scenes are anything to go from, this show has more than enough scares to make even the most hardened jump.
Creator Little Marvin knows how and when to apply pressure. This first season titled Covenant, promises to be a tight story with a clear narrative focus. If the first two episodes are anything to go from, Them will be the anthology series others are graded against. The first moments are disturbing, and that same level of energy carries through both episodes screened. If Them can keep that electricity crackling over the entirety of the season, Them will not only be terrifying but profoundly affecting.
Ever outstanding Allison Pill(Devs) is a hideous monster clad in sunny 50s fit and flare. Betty Wendell(Pill) is the ideal blond wife who is as ugly on the inside as she is perky on the outside. She is just one of the people who torment the family over the course of ten days. She is incredibly nuanced without excusing her behavior. Just because you have reasons to act horribly doesn’t excuse that behavior, and Them does an excellent job letting the wrongness of her actions speak for themselves.
The first season which is set over just ten days, is a quick descent into Hell. Relentlesslously paced, you feel in real-time what the family must face every day. Dutch angles are gloriously intense and never gimmicky. They intentionally show the wrongness lying just under the sunshine perfection of California suburbia. Them is bone-deep scary for what is real and what you desperately hope is not. Melding the horror of prejudice with supernatural forces trying to take over this family isn’t just smart; it is relatable and absolutely unsettling. Them has teeth and isn’t afraid to use them.
It captures what hate does to the family dynamic. Whether it is the neighbors’ vile behavior or sinister forces inside the house, The Emory’s are poised for a ten-day fight for their lives. Amazon’s Them is an exceptional series that is as timely as it is frightening. It perfectly captures the lengths some will go to protect their families and the irrational fear the ignorant have of those who aren’t them. It premiers on Amazon Prime on April 9th, 2020.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.