The Reel Review
This Amazon supernatural horror anthology series explores the experience of being black in a white racist America. This first season is an ominous ten-day look at a family from North Carolina that moves to a rabidly-intolerant 1950s all-white neighborhood in East Compton, California. In addition to the racism, they gradually learn of a malevolent presence in their home.
The series from creator Little Marvin (The Time Is Now) starts off strongly, as each family member (an excellent Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Melody Hurd) endures what feels like a never ending barrage of racism. The onslaught ranges from subtle microaggressions to the blatantly hostile and graphically violent. It is stomach-churning and clearly enough to drive them all mad.
Alison Pill (Vice) plays the neighborhood bully spearheading the vile effort to run them off. She is a monster of epic proportions. Her maniacal smile, the period clothes, the manicured lawns and pastel homes with garish wallpaper – all symbolize the veil of civility that mask the real life horrors of racism. The cinematography and camera techniques are pulled straight from Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
But around Episode 5, the overlong series becomes exhausting to watch as it devolves into a pointless, overly-styled rampage of torture porn. The supernatural angle feels increasingly forced and even silly. And the story arcs with Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) as the milkman and a Midsommar-type backstory detailing religious-based, 1800s-era racism in Episode 9 are incredibly strange and distracting. There is just so much going on in Them that we forget that there is a message somewhere in all that madness. Ick.
• Amazon has already greenlit Season Two of Them, which will follow the American Horror Story anthology format with a new tale. Its executive producer is Lena Waithe, writer/producer of 2019’s Queen & Slim.
• Ashley Thomas’ screen credits include the 2016 HBO series The Night Of, and the series 24: Legacy.