Them (Ils) is a French horror / thriller film about a woman named Clementine, who finishes a week of teaching and heads home to the secluded house in the woods she shares with her novelist husband Lucas. That night the house seems to turn on them - doors slam, sharp objects materialize through keyholes and shadows are seen in the corridors. When the couple investigate, they find they are threatened by an outside force, but can’t be sure whether it is real or supernatural. The film is apparently based on a true story.
In December 2006, Them was submitted to the BBFC for classification. The distributor had not requested a specific category for the film. The majority of horror works submitted to the BBFC generally fall into the two higher categories – 15 and 18. The job of the examiner is to try and distinguish the various classification elements that place a work in either of these categories. In the case of Them the examining team felt that the work clearly fell into the 15 category, with the main issues being noted as:
• consistent and sustained threat and horror
• frequent jump moments
• brief bloody moments
The examiners found the film to be very effective in its sparse use of on-screen horror – most of which is unseen until the very end of the film.
The BBFC Guidelines for horror state that ‘strong threat and menace are permitted’ at 15; whereas at 12A only ‘moderate threat and menace’ are allowed. The examining team agreed that the level of threat and menace in Them was too strong to be contained at 12A. It is sustained throughout the film without let-up, as the audience are placed in the terrifying position of the main characters; a factor which ultimately led to the 15 decision. Economical film-making techniques, such as low key lighting and atmospheric sound effects, produce a spooky atmosphere, comparing favorably with previous 15 horror films such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), a film that is relatively strong in tone, but contains surprisingly little blood or gore. In Them the sight of blood is minimal and features only briefly in one scene.
The differences between 15 and 18 horror are set out within the current BBFC Guidelines, which state that where a work lies on the margin between two categories, the BBFC ‘takes into account the intentions of the film-maker, the expectations of the public in general and the work’s audience in particular and any special merits of the work’. Although Them is not explicitly aimed at a teenage audience, the examining team decided that the work was likely to appeal to a wide audience that may include teen-horror fans.
Factors that may place a film within the 15 boundaries may also include it having a significant fantasy or comedic element, or dated and unconvincing special effects. These considerations are important when placing a film in its correct category and can often lead to older resubmitted horror works being reclassified. However, in the case of Them, it was decided that the horror on display is more psychological, relying on suggestion than on strong visual effects – none of which would exceed public expectations.
The BBFCinsight reads ‘Contains sustained horror’.