Thursday, February 7, 2013

77 minutes, at least three sittings

What's the most number of sittings it has taken you to get through a 77-minute movie?

I'm going on at least three for the 2006 French horror movie Them.

I hope to finish the movie on my next sitting, which will be my third. But I've still got 23 minutes left. So far, it has been a significant obstacle to make any headway in this film, so I'm not going to guarantee I'll take down those 23 minutes on my next attempt.

I started watching Them on Saturday night. I chose it specifically for its short running time. Exhausted from a day of digging trenches in our yard (we're being alpha homeowners by installing our own sprinkler system), I still figured I could get through 77 minutes, even starting after 10 o'clock. I actually got through 45 minutes.

Then last night I made a go of finishing the final 32 minutes. Again the circumstances were less than ideal. I'd had a hard day (the clutch on my car died -- yes, I drive a stick -- and it's going to cost beaucoup bucks to fix), so I finished the day with two beers. Perhaps I shouldn't have told my body it was time to go sleep by brushing my teeth, because once I climbed in bed to watch those 32 minutes, I didn't even manage a third of that.

Some of this can/should be blamed on the movie. It's like Ti West's stellar The House of the Dead in that it's essentially a haunted house movie that contains tons and tons of build-up to what might be a big payoff. (For the sticklers out there, neither of the houses in these films is technically a "haunted house," but both use a "haunted house narrative structure" because they take place almost exclusively inside one domicile, at least from the end of the first act onward.) The difference is that West's film gave me confidence throughout that the big payoff was coming. I'm not so sure this time.

And because it's so minimalist in establishing its scares, you don't have that much in terms of actual plot to grab on to as you make your way through the narrative. That's killer when you are fighting off sleep with all your might.

Still, I do have hope that Them will pay off in a big way. Them is directed by the duo of David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and I liked a lot of what they did with the Jessica Alba vehicle The Eye, which was a remake of a successful J-horror. In fact, my relative satisfaction with The Eye was what caused me to put Them on my queue in the first place.

One bit about the way this film was advertised is puzzling, though. Moreau and Palud go to great lengths to conceal the identity/appearance of the titular "them," and in fact, at the 54-minute mark, we still haven't gotten a clear look a them. Yet the poster above betrays the directors by giving at least their silhouettes up front. I'm starting to think that this is the kind of movie where silhouettes will be all we'll get. And while that's a good thing, it means that the poster deflated the suspense entirely.

I guess the final 23 minutes will tell me a lot. Eventually.


Thaddeus said...

Oh man, this movie. I remember eagerly renting it and looking forward to some tense foreign horror. I recall the problems I had as it reached its conclusion.

To my mind, you've already seen the best parts of this picture. Everything before the last 20-30 minutes is decent, if not (possibly) good. But the closing...

On one level, this movie works as a pure shocker - the nature of the threat here is supposed to take you off your guard and make you feel really shocked and unsettled. I suspect that it's supposed to make you think - and be worried about the real-world state of affairs.

Part of that effect stems from the nature of the bad guy(s), but the rest is from the idea that this is based on a real-life situation. While the latter is definitely unnerving, it's the real-life stuff that drags this down.

When you get to the end, your response might the same as mine - incredulous annoyance at the actions of the protagonists. The situation they're put in is very clear, and yet the act with the sort of hesitance that makes sense only in a pure horror film where the crowd yells stuff like "don't go up the stairs, you f--king idiot!" The end, to me, suddenly threw that element in, but the overall picture wasn't intended that way. It's why I left this picture feeling dissatisfied...

Vancetastic said...

As proof of how gutless I've become when it comes to ranking movies, I gave this 3.5 stars out of 5 on Letterboxd when my instinct was really to give it only 3. I guess I found the final reveal to be somewhat provocative, but not nearly as much as the movie seemed to find it provocative. Ultimately it came down to too much of a tease for too little payoff. Also, why (other than it being based on something that really happened) does it take place in Romania, and there's even some Romanian dialogue in it, yet the "them" (won't spoil it for anyone) speak in French?

Thaddeus said...

I would agree with that - but again, there was really supposed to be a pack of these antagonists who were running around killing people for kicks. So, yes, provocative, but I hated the stupidity of the characters...

My guess is that (a) it's a French film set in Romania and/or (b) Romanian is a Romance Language too, so it might be the same pronoun in both...