Them, review: the horror in the past of the States

Them, review: the horror in the past of the States

Them, review

Horror can take different forms, as literature and cinema have taught us. It can come from the dark depths of the cosmos as imagined by Lovecraft, taking the form of monstrous creatures, or spring from our soul, from our everyday life. Basically, horror is a feeling of fear of something incomprehensible and apparently invincible, which suddenly attacks us and digs into our mind, bringing out our phobias and our anxieties. And nothing, it seems, can be more biting than the human structure, the society in which we move and which has shown itself to know how cruel as the worst of nightmares. Them, the new Amazon Prime Video series, is based on this axiom, which showcases the worst possible horror: human cruelty. At the center of Them is one of America's great evils, its racist root which, especially in the last century, has shown the worst side of the American Dream. In creating his series, screenwriter Little Marvin decides to plunge his story into the American social context of the 1950s. In this decade the Great Migration took place, a massive emigration of the black population who decided to leave the south and deeply racist area of ​​the States (the so-called Jim Crow Belt), to seek better living conditions in other areas of the country, especially in the West Coast and in the industrial north.

Them, preview of the new Amazon Prime Video series

Historically contextualizing Them is fundamental, considering how Little Marvin links his own vision of horror to the condition of the African American population of the period. A choice, that of the screenwriter, which fits into a dynamic narrative that seems to have found its own space within the current serial production. Also on Amazon Prime you can see a similar approach in The Terror: Infamy, where the protagonists are the Japanese Americans during the Second World War, while in recent months the condition of African Americans has already been intertwined with a more classic horror with Lovecraft Country. Marvin's approach is to focus on the anger gap, a principle that sees the exaggerated anger of black populations take on ever more desperate tones and transform into a socio-political force that in the decades following great social tensions.

But how to give substance to this strong narrative tension? The choice falls on showing a social contrast in its most authentic form, with the presence of an element that can be perceived as foreign within a bubble of idealized perfection. How to move a black family into a neighborhood considered a stronghold of the healthy and inviolable values ​​of the good white people of America.

The hope of finding a more inclusive social status pushes the Emory family to move along the coast of America. peaceful, with destination the Los Angeles neighborhood of East Compton. The Emories are a family type of the period, with their father Henry (Ashley Thomas) an aeronautical engineer who got a job at a prestigious firm in the sector and their mother Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde), who takes care of their two little daughters, Ruby Lee. (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie Jean (Melody Hurd). The arrival of this color family upsets the white community of the neighborhood, which does not hesitate to show their aversion to the Emories from the first moment.

The fear of whites is to end up like West Compton, a similar neighborhood to theirs but whose value has been depreciated by how much 'they' entered it. Historically accurate, this neighborhood anxiety is the representation of a dull social vision, in which the opening to other ethnic groups of neighborhoods, schools and public environments was perceived as the loss of American values, the prerogative of the white population. The Emories, therefore, become the enemy, the danger for the good citizens of East Compton to see their efforts to have their American Dream thwarted by a family of 'niggers'.

A social context which, despite the optimism that animates Henry, makes the new life of the Emory family in sunny California very little idyllic. The same title of the series, Them (them), not too subtly hides a meaning of hatred and contempt, which is immediately associated with this color family.

Horror in the modern history of the States

This form of alienation from the social context was marked by a series of attitudes and alleged habits that pushed African Americans to seek integration not only aimed at their own cultural identity, but often dictated by offering a vision of themselves as fruit of the imagination of whites. Dani Bethea, screenwriter of the series, explained this aspect perfectly:

“During this time, some of the most successful minstrel shows made by black men appeared, offering white viewers shows based on what it was perceived as 'authentically' black. The Tap Dance Man embodies the persistent madness of the white imagination: that in order to survive, we must be constantly forced to 'dance for white' "

This is where the horror of Them hides. While there is no lack of scenes that we know appeal to a more immediate and visually stinging terror, it is the emotional context of the environment in which the characters move that conveys a sense of oppression, of anguished despair. It would be enough to mention the elevator scene, in which Henry, his boss and a colleague are together inside the cabin, when one of the two whites falls a pen. Silence, until Henry remembers that he is expected to pick up the pen. A moment built to perfection, in which the hypocritical and annoying approval of whites to the correct behavior of the 'negro' is rendered.

Marvin builds Them on these tensions, increases the emotional weight on the Emories, also leading them to family quarrels . Where Henry tries in every way to be accepted, at the cost of giving up his dignity, Lucky instead does not intend to endure, reacts to the provocations of a ruthless and cruel neighborhood, headed by Betty, the perfect American housewife mask of the period. A divergence, that between Lucky and Betty, chromatically enhanced, enhanced by the cold pastel shades of Betty's world that screech when contrasted with the warm and lively colors of Lucky.

Them is based on this historical parenthesis, but does not disdain to insert more traditional elements of horror into their narrative, which manage to integrate perfectly with the plot. Marvin finds an excellent reading key to give his series a secure identity, inserting illuminating and never banal flashbacks, guiding the viewer to discover the past of the characters by bringing out the wounds of the soul and also depriving the world of whites of its boasted perfection, letting the murky and anguish emerge.

Accomplice of Them's compelling emotional construction is also a perfect management of the narrative tools, from the direction to the soundtrack. If musically the ideal sounds to contextualize this story can be found within the production of the period, just as successful are the sound effects that accompany the shots taken by an attentive eye that enhances the emotions of the characters, guides our gaze inside. of a human drama in which horror seems to come to life becoming the incarnation of the demons of a oppressed population in search of a peaceful life. The cathartic moments are always filmed with a construction of the scene that sharpens the emotion, the alienation of the characters is portrayed with surgical precision, using tricks of the trade, such as the flickering of the frame, which together with impeccable acting performances deliver to the spectators a story that deserves to be seen.

Them, due to this connotation, is a social series, in which the Afro-American identity of the period is portrayed with care, opening us a glimpse of urban dimensions that we do not know, participating in the current cinematic moment, in which we are shown an authentic America without masks, thanks to productions such as Detroit, American Elegy, Concrete Cowboy or Nomadland. The Amazon series is not a horror of monsters and blood, it is a story that brings fear and anguish out of reality, where the most dangerous shadows, those of the human soul, are hidden.

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