By Twisted Tori
Rarely does a film or series greatly impact my mood and leave me with nightmares. But Amazon Prime’s new original series THEM has left a lasting impression and experience I will not soon forget. Until recently, only two other films ever managed to do this: 1998’s BELOVED and 2007’s AN AMERICAN CRIME. What do all three of these titles have in common? Hatred and horrific violence that no one should EVER have to endure. Like those two films, THEM is not an easy watch; it is downright depressing and devasting. If you chose to watch it, please do so with caution.
THEM is an anthology series that explores terror in America. The first season was created by Little Martin and has an incredible cast including Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Melody Hurd. The story takes place in the 1950s and centers around a black family (The Emory’s) who move from rural North Carolina to an all-white Los Angles suburban neighborhood called East Compton in hopes for a new start, a better life. The family knows the risk of moving to a neighborhood like this, but nothing could prepare them for the horrors they endure over the course of 10 days, both supernatural and real-life.
Throughout the film, the Emory family goes through hell and back as they come face to face with racism with every move they make while also dealing with their tragic past. Will they survive this all too real nightmare, or will they lose everything?
What I liked:
First, I noticed some people comparing THEM to Jordan Peele’s GET OUT and US, saying it’s a mix of both of his films into one. Although there are similarities, the differences far outweigh them. With Peele’s films, there’s usually some relief from the horror and tension with a light-hearted, dark humor joke. There’s nothing remotely funny about THEM and there will be no smiling. If anything, it will feel like all the joy and happiness is sucked straight out of you.
Sometimes it can be easier than expected to turn a blind eye to racism when it’s not up in your face. But THEM shoves it down your throat and makes you watch and listen and experience what countless others have dealt with but through the safety of a screen. It wasn’t easy to watch, but I think it’s good to be reminded that racism and horrific acts like this did happen in our past and are still happening. Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable because you can address that feeling, why that feeling is happening, and discuss it. These conversations are important. It also highlights “victim mentality” perfectly. There are several occasions where a white neighbor does something horrendous and their act doesn’t go as planned and the consequence of it leaves them unsatisfied or worse off. So, they blame their new black neighbors and everyone else instead of being accountable for their actions. Basically, the continuous mindset of “I destroyed my neighbors’ lawn and they’re not doing anything to fix it. The audacity! Now I have to look at this eyesore that I created in the first place, poor me!”
I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this series. The cinematography, costume design, and pastel set design were well-crafted and worked together perfectly to help create a sinister “Pleasantville” type of setting. It was a beautiful story about hardship and the hope for a better tomorrow. We see this strong-willed and close-knit family face the worse possible conditions, each with their own personal quirks and challenges but they continue to fight and push through it even when they’re broken. Then there were the supernatural elements that made it extra unique and unsettling and fit perfectly with everything that was going on.
The phenomenal and award-worthy performances from every single character in THEM were what helped drive this story and keep the viewers’ attention despite the triggering material. Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Melody Hurd had a unique and special on-screen chemistry and bond that was incredibly important for subject matter like this. Each of their characters had their own story arc and personal growth throughout the story and were the only likable characters. I can’t emphasize this enough. THE ONLY LIKEABLE characters. Every other character is problematic and horrifying and I pretty much hated all of them. I know hate is a strong word, therefore it shows just how good the acting was for me to feel that strongly about them. Although I despised everyone except for the family, the award for my least favorite character goes to Betty played by Alison Pill. She is just the embodiment of everything wrong with society. Alison kills it with her performance and you just want to slap that pearly white sinister smile off her face.
The soundtrack is exceptional and fits perfectly with the uneasy and horrifying scenes throughout the series. It helps elevate the suspense and tension and draws you into the story even more. Both a good and bad thing if you ask me.
What I Didn’t Like:
THEM is about the struggles, experiences, and history of black people. I was a little uncomfortable that there weren’t more black creators involved with this especially regarding the directors. I think it is important with subject matter like this that black creators and voices should be the ones telling it. Elevating their voices and experiences.
Another thing that didn’t sit well with me was all the shock-value scenes that were thrown into this series. Coming from me, this is saying a lot. It may seem very uncharacteristic of me or even hypocritical, as I love horror films, the gorier the better. However, when it comes to THEM, the story in itself is horrifying and unbearable. It stands strong on its own. In this situation, the phrase “less is more” should have been applied. Instead, it was overly graphic, triggering, and they laid everything on thick. Not only is the racism horrifyingly sadistic and non-stop, but there’s also sexual assault, child abuse, sexism, and so on. I’m aware that all of this can go hand in hand, but the way it was executed was not necessary and just extra.
There’s a lot of backstories/side stories that fall under shock value for me and seemed unnecessary to the overall story. There was one in particular that involved a very unlikeable character that gives us a closer glimpse into her life and upbringing, and I felt like they were trying to get us to feel some type of pity for her or even remorse. But she didn’t deserve our pity. Bad things happening to you don’t justify you doing bad things to others. I also understand that they were also trying to depict that sinners often cast the first, and most, stones. It just didn’t feel like they executed it right.
Another situation I want to bring up is a really graphic scene in episode 5 that was way over the top. It didn’t need to go that far. We got the point without the extreme details that went into it. It destroyed me, broke me, and I know it will trigger other viewers as well. After this, it got to the point that I was trying to prepare myself for every possible scenario because it didn’t seem like anything was off-limits in THEM. There’s a scene where a white gentleman mentions something about how the oldest black daughter “is almost a woman” and I instantly panicked with fear to the possibilities of what could follow after those words.
Although I’m glad I experienced what THEM had to offer, I wouldn’t put myself through it again. It’s an incredibly heart-wrenching, soul-crushing, extremely trigging watch that not everyone may be able to handle. I think the series is important on some levels, but I just wish some of the shock value had been left out. If you think you can stomach it, THEM is now available to watch on Amazon Prime. Just make sure to bring tissues and give yourself breaks if you need to take them.