Month of Horror 2016: Genre Exploration – Home Invasion: Them

Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources.  Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier).  Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.

10/30/2016 – Home Invasion: Them (2006)
Directed by David Moreau

If natural horror films made you afraid to go out in that awful outside world, the home invasion film is here to remind you that nowhere is safe, even the place you rest your head and feel safest in the world. This is another one of those fun subgenres that kind of straddles the line between two proper ones (horror and thriller) so I will try to keep it to just the horror stuff (with apologies to films such as SuddenlyStraw Dogs, and Panic Room) though of course it is all debatable. It is also a genre with a fairly loose use of the term (despite the accurately descriptive name) since some movies will devote the entire movie to the concept, while others only do so in part. Still it would be remiss of me not to mention the granddaddy of them all, 1939’s Blind Alley or some of the early influential titles such as 1936’s The Petrified Forest (which may not have been set in a home but shares a lot in common structurally), 1948’s great Key Largo and Sorry, Wrong Number from the same year.

It wasn’t until 1964’s Lady in a Cage or more likely 1967’s classic Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin starring entry Wait Until Dark that the genre made the jump into horror. Wait Until Dark set the basic template for many of them, single woman all alone at home (with a disability if you want the bonus points), a criminal or a few terrorizing her for whatever reason. The ‘60s also gave us entertainingly bad Corruption but it was the ‘70s where the genre hit it’s stride. A Clockwork Orangemay not be horror, but it’s hard not to find a modern home invasion film that doesn’t seem to have at least some resemblance to the showboating theatrics of the scene where Alex and his droogs assault the couple in their home. More traditionally we have the uneven remake that turned a classic drama into horror in The Last House on the Left, the great Black Christmas, the controversial I Spit on Your Grave (which I “hope” to get to before the month is out), and When a Stranger Calls at least in its awesome, Scream inspiring opening and the ending.
The next couple decades saw the genre fall off with exceptions in Alone in the DarkAngst (which is quite possibly the greatest one), a single fantastic scene from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and the original Funny Games (of which I have only seen the trying of my patience remake).

As all things must, we have currently cycled back to the home invasion genre, this century representing a run of sorts for them. The New French Extremity especially seems a fan of them with many of its most prominent films including Haute TensionThem (hey, that’s today’s movie), Inside, and Martyrs with this brutality typifying the new direction of the genre. We have also gotten quickly forgotten remakes of Black ChristmasWhen a Stranger Calls, and The Last House on the Left, a few films with generally mixed at best reviews in The StrangersThe CollectorMother’s Day (though I quite liked it), the mediocre The Silent House and it’s hideous American remakeKidnappedThe Purge (which I really didn’t care for), Knock Knock, a segment of Southbound and Emilie which will I get to later (fingers crossed). However, it is four films in Sleep Tight (see below), the fantastic You’re Next, and the 2016 Wait Until Dark inspired duo Don’t Breathe and Hush (see below) that finally gave the genre a sense of critical respect.

I’ve mentioned before that my reason for choosing Them over Inside came down merely to the former being available on Netflix while the latter wasn’t. Of course the jokes on me, the DVD didn’t actually reach me in time rendering the whole decision arbitrary. Them is supposedly based on a true story but I wasn’t able to confirm if that was true and so I will proceed on the assumption they were just pulling a Fargo.

Two women are driving along before getting into a car accident, the mom goes to fix the car and disappears leaving the daughter by herself. She looks for her before retreating to the car, the rain picking up, the doors locking, mud or blood or whatever is thrown at her windows, the lights go dark, her call to the police given only the repeated and haunting “police station, hold the line”, and then as the tension can’t get any higher, an unseen figure reaches from behind her and garrotes her. It’s an outstanding opening that perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come. The film is not very “extreme” and it really shouldn’t be lumped in with say Haute Tension and Frontier(s), with the gore turned down in favor of pure suspense.

Our main story concerns a French couple living together in a sizable house in Romania. They don’t seem like they are overly perfect or have some huge fight hanging over them, just regular folks and I couldn’t be happier about this. After some time getting to know them a bit (mostly just finding out how normal they are, they don’t really have any distinguishing characteristics), the woman hears noises, their car is stolen, something kills the power and just as randomly turns it back on, their TVs and faucet turned on as well.

For much of the movie whatever is stalking them almost seems supernatural. They move about silently and are rarely seen. Even showing a foot after a while is about all the film will give us to show they aren’t some supernatural force though even that feels in doubt. Slowly we get more on them though as they <spoilers> are finally shown and seen, seemingly existing merely as figures in hoodies, not actual people and somewhere I can imagine a Republican climaxing on reading that. They seem less like humans and more like forces only making occasional vocalizations and not even words until the end.

The big twist that is likely to make or break people is that over an hour in we finally see one of their faces and it is revealed “they” are teenagers (eventually revealed to be between 10-15). They claim that “we just want to play” and ultimately, supposedly kills them because “they wouldn’t play with us” but they are way too old to be pulling that line out though and being vaguely believable. It’s just generic creepy kid stuff but at too old an age for it to be effective Yet this hardly seems to matter since the film is all very suspenseful and moves incredibly quick. There are clearly many benefits to the 74-minute run time and while it skimps heavily on characterization it more than makes up for it in tension.

There isn’t much in the way of standout scenes aside from the old woman looks through the hole, and as I assume will happen if I ever tried this, someone nearly stabs her eye with a sharp metal poker of some sort. It’s just one giant pursuit as they terrorize this couple, the film really taking advantage of both the house and surrounding woods setting. SPOILERS There’s also that ending as the two get separated when one kid (briefly appearing to help them) kicks the guy off the ladder and while she nearly escapes, she is trapped by an outlet grate and dragged away off screen into the darkness screaming. It’s a cliché by this point (though it came out a year before the definitive take on it in [REC]) but it’s still an effective way to just offer up that glimpse of hope and snatch it away (while also fitting with the way they move about in the shadows most of the movie). END OF SPOILERS

Honestly aside from being a right wing fantasy that stumbles a bit after its twist (though not anywhere near as badly as Haute Tension) it’s a great film. There’s also quite a bit of xenophobia even if this is left much more implicit, the innocent French terrorized by the savage Romanians. SPOILERS I’m willing to overlook the paranoid fear of teenagers in large part because fuck teenagers, I hated those assholes even when I was one. END OF SPOILERS The xenophobia less so, but since it doesn’t come through in the movie so much as merely implied by the setting and the realities of the real world I’ll let it off with a warning.

Bonus Episode #38 – Home Invasion: Hush (2016)
Directed by Mike Flanagan

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From the director of Absentia (which has been sitting at the top of my queue since last October), the great Oculus, and the apparently surprisingly good sequel Ouija: Origin of Evil, we have Wait Until Dark with a deaf woman (living with her ugly ass cat) instead of a blind woman. It’s a glib description and besides the basic premise the two films don’t have much in common and the film deserves far more credit than that. The woman is a thriller writer with a Stephen King book on her shelf and this is the kind of shit he’d love (*checks Wikipedia and see him praising the movie* with her ability to see ahead how things are going to go (we can all do that, just some choose not to).

After as nice quiet introduction, the film really gets going as she sits home alone to write and as she does, a woman runs up to her door, which of course the writer can’t hear, a masked man runs up and catches the woman and stabs her repeatedly. The masked man discovers she’s deaf when she can’t hear the ruckus he has brought to her place, sneaks in, nicks her phone, and just kind of mills around the place before he starts sending her pictures of herself.

Not much more needs to be said past that this is the kind of asshole who carries around a crossbow. That’s all that needs to be said. She locks him out and in response he cuts the power and stabs her tires. Any thoughts that he’s doing this to prevent her from telling are immediately dispelled when she promises she won’t tell the police cause she didn’t see his face so he takes the mask off and it becomes clear he’s a sadist. The kind of fun sadist who uses a murdered lady to knock on the window.

The rest of the film becomes a cat and mouse chase with her constantly trying to escape as he tries to keep her in and leave her wishing for death. <spoilers>This only gets harder when she takes a crossbow to the leg leaving her hobbled and bleeding. She also gets no support from Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica) and what a giant idiot who just trusts the person who looks nothing like a cop, has a ton of holes in his story, and has a giant neck tattoo</spoilers>.

Kate Siegel and John Gallagher, Jr. are awesome in the lead roles, with Siegel especially playing a woman who is awesome, funny, and tough as hell. The film really knows how to make you feel the characters’ pain with a certain scene featuring a hand getting stomped just sounding awful. It manifests her deafness by occasionally playing with the sound (think the effect used in most movies for when a flashbang goes off) though it never gets completely silent and while it would have been really interesting to see the film completely from her point of view (no sound), it still manages to capture it extremely effectively. It’s simple, effective, and quick moving and frankly I loved it from beginning to end. It’s earned its place in the top two or three home invasion movies ever made.

Bonus Episode #39 – Home Invasion: Sleep Tight (2011)
Directed by Jaume Balagueró

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From the co-director of the awesome first two [REC] films as well as the solo director of the fourth and the great To Let, comes this sort of reverse home invasion movie. Our protagonist is the one invading other’s personal space instead of the one being terrorized. He’s an apartment concierge who believes he can’t be happy and is determined to make everyone as miserable as he is. He’s exactly the kind of creepy weirdo you expect to be working at a place like this and his ability to convince others this isn’t the case has mixed results.

As part of his plans, he screws around with the tenants subtly, such as killing off a man’s plants or getting inside a woman’s head with merely his word but his main task is breaking an incredibly happy and cheerful woman who lives there. He messes with her while she sleeps, knocking her out every night, getting in bed with her, putting something in her skin cream to make her break out, putting a rotten, egg filled apple in her fridge which unleashes tons of cockroaches that fill her apartment, and sending her mysterious notes. She’s so cheerful even with all the bad stuff happening to her but you watch as her body visibly starts failing her and this only encourages him more. He also seems to believe somewhat that he’s developing a relationship (a sick, twisted one) with her and when she calls him in to clean out the cockroaches, he seems to think his real and imagined lives are coming together.

He relates his exploits to his mother who clearly seems distraught about all this but is unable to respond in her condition. Her boyfriend comes home and messes with his plans especially since he is far more suspicious of him. I love the look of revulsion on his face as he gets trapped under their bed while they have sex, accidently chloroforming himself and has to sneak out before they notice and before he passes out. He only makes it to the shower though and we have to watch as she is only seconds away from finding him and he must escape, making his way through the apartment, then improbably bluffing his way out of the situation despite them discovering his bag with a bunch of really incriminating material. The film really does have a way of getting us to root for this sick bastard at times, with him frequently hiding under her bed, afraid he might get caught at any time even if this is someone who gets into bed naked between them and holding her and dangles kids out of windows.

SPOILERS Of course, it’s also revealed that he has impregnated her and I’m guessing it wasn’t shown since depicting it would have probably prevented the film from working as well though I kind of suspected this event would happen eventually. When the boyfriend finds out he’s been coming in to her room for a while (and correctly suspects he was behind the pregnancy), he lures the concierge into the room attacks him and is killed in self-defense although it is made it look like a suicide. This is finally what finally breaks her and when he reveals everything by letter that he did, it finished the job. The look of glee on his face is completely unnerving. END OF SPOILERS

Luis Tosar’s lead performance is what makes the movie as he’s called on to be vaguely sympathetic even as his awful depths are revealed and yet still sell the menace. There’s also a much cleaner visual style than his previous films (even the non-found footage To Let) and it’s certainly to the film’s benefit. It’s a great film that most importantly feels unique and offering a new spin on the genre.

Bonus Episode #40 – Comedy: Leprechaun 3 (1995)
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith

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The terrible comedic slasher series has gone to direct to video and direct to Vegas. It would be foolish after a lousy first part and an even more inferior sequel to expect anything to improve and these preconceived notions would be completely confirmed. An eye-patched, hook-handed man sells a leprechaun statue with a medallion on it with instructions not to touch the medallion. So of course, the pawn shop owner touches it right away and as a result we are cursed with another tale of the leprechaun running amuck.

Because the series is incapable of anything more original, the leprechaun accidently leaves a gold piece behind again and we are treated to a series of awful people making petty wishes only for the leprechaun to punish them in an attempt to get back his gold piece. The shop owner who is greedy and wants more yet keeps taking damage almost has potential for a Tom and Jerry type running plot that could even be interesting in the hands of even mediocre writers but we aren’t lucky to get even that and eventually it gives up with this “fun”. Our lead character is a dopey college student drawn in by the glamour of a third-rate casino (third-rate may be generous).

He’s infected by the leprechaun’s bite because leprechauns are basically werewolves and starts acting like eventually turning into one because one obnoxious quip machine clearly isn’t enough. The bad quips are back and even worse somehow, and even more frequent. Hearing them come out of the Z-list actor in charge of reciting some almost makes you appreciate Warwick Davis’ performance but no one on earth could make the writing tolerable, let alone the schmucks that populate this crap.

Some lowlights include a topless woman coming out of a TV who turns out to be an animatronic, a woman killed by a leprechaun making her breasts, ass, and lips grow until she explodes, and a finale where the leprechaun is defeated by SPOILERS “melting” his gold with a flamethrower (it just vanishes). Somehow this also lights the leprechaun on fire and turns him back into a pathetic human. END OF SPOILERS I think I laughed exactly once, when the leprechaun stabs out a dude’s eye so maybe that makes it the highlight of the series, but honestly the rest of the film is so terrible, there’s nothing even worth seeing even as a so bad it’s good movie.

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