News

Them Creator and Stars on Making a Show Out of Real-Life Jumpscares

Creator Little Marvin asks what's scarier: a mysterious sound in the basement or a neighbor glaring at your house?

by | April 7, 2021 | Comments

The most disturbingly brilliant thing about Amazon Prime Video’s new anthology series Them might just be its perfect title.

The horror series premieres April 9 on the streaming service and aims to explore America’s history of discriminating against (and sometimes physically assaulting) people of marginalized backgrounds. The first season is set in 1950s Compton, California, when a Black family from North Carolina moves into the shiny, new — and very white — Los Angeles neighborhood. Just who, exactly, constitutes a them simply depends on which side of the driveway you stand.


Deborah Ayorinde and Ashley Thomas in Them

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

Deborah Ayorinde stars as Lucky Emory, a homemaker and mother going through her own loss who is uncomfortable with her husband Henry’s (Ashley Thomas) plans to move the family across the country. Ayorinde, a British-born person of Nigerian descent who moved to the U.S. as a child, told Rotten Tomatoes that she understood the title immediately.

“Here’s the thing: we live in a world where people are actually terrified of being them,” she said. “So what they do is they tend to highlight other people as them, for lack of a better phrase, so that people will not pay attention to their own ways to which they are different.”


Alison Pill in Them

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

The all-too familiar antagonist of the first season of Them is Alison Pill’s Betty Wendell, the blonde, white, and self-appointed queen bee of the block’s (not-so) welcoming committee. She rules the neighborhood bridge parties with well-manicured exactness and everyone knows that there’s no way the desserts she brings to the potluck came from Vons. Just try not to mention what Betty believes to be her one imperfection: that she and her husband Clarke (Liam McIntyre) cannot have children. Sending her minions after the Emorys when the new family moves to town secures Betty’s power.

But the title’s definition could also mean something … supernatural. Or spooky. Or suspenseful. And, sometimes in Them, it’s all of those things and then some. Soon the audience, and Lucky and her family, begin to wonder how much of eerie and unfortunate stuff is really happening and how much of it is the circumstances of their living situation. After all, we’re told from the very beginning that this is a story about a family who lives in a house for only 10 days.


“We always had a question in the writers’ room, which we would ask ourselves a lot, which was: ‘What scares us most: that sound in the basement that you can’t explain? Or that neighbor from down the street who has been staring at your house every single day?’” series creator Little Marvin said. “And in our collective experience, it’s usually always that neighbor … I find human beings to be deeply scary. I think rooting the terror in something deeply human was our very first impulse.

“I’m not particularly interested in just empty jumpscares for the sake of jumpscares,” said the series creator, who goes by “LM” on second reference. “I like things that feel emotionally rich, and then let the horror kind of come from there.”

He said the thesis for the anthology is “this idea that, since the dawn of this country … there’s always been them. There’s always been the folk who have been subjected to the sort of ire and suspicion and paranoia, and frankly, hatred and terror, of the dominant folk.”


Deborah Ayorinde, Melody Hurd, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Ashley Thomas in Them

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

As a Black man, LM said it made sense to explore “the terror of being Black” for season 1. Focusing on the post-World War II economic boom of 1953 also fit because it was when home ownership became attainable for the middle class.

But, LM added, “as Black folks know, the dream of home ownership has been anything but. [So] I wanted to definitely go back and peel apart the floorboards and look at the roots of that particular nightmare.”

The look and sounds of the show are also unique in that they look period — but not the period you’d imagine. The music is anachronistic, in part, LM said because “no offense to musicians in 1953, but that was a deeply sh—y year for music.”

“We set out to make a show about the ’50s that felt like it was shot in the ’60s or ’70s. And by doing that, it allowed us to think about the way we framed, the way we shot and the way we styled. But, also, the soundscape and the music that we used,” LM said.

Telling a story that takes place only over a week and a half “creates an instant pressure cooker,” LM said. Not only does it keep the pace moving, but it also gave the writers “the time and the space to dig in on a day and to live with these characters as they’re maneuvering and navigating their lives every day.”


Ashley Thomas (center) in Them

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

This also created an intense experience for the actors. Stars Ayorinde and Thomas said they were only given four of the scripts at first, meaning that they didn’t know what was real or imaginary either. She said that LM would frequently talk to her on set, not just about how her character, Lucky, would be doing but how she was handling it all.

Thomas said he liked that his Henry was an upwardly mobile engineer and veteran, and that he was battling the very real issue of PTSD while also being “a character that was multi-layered and nuanced who loved his family unconditionally” who was “present emotionally and present physically.”

The hard part for him was unpacking his own privilege of living in modern society and “making sure that I played the restraint correctly.”

“I had to make sure that I stripped away my ego to play the character and service the character,” Thomas explained. “I can afford to react differently to something in 2021, 2022, 2023 than someone can in 1953 when it is literally the difference between life and death.”


Shahadi Wright Joseph in Them

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

These are all weighty topics, particularly given the current political climate. The show was accused of mining Black trauma after a trailer was released in March — especially since Lena Waithe, one of its executive producers, is also the creator of the Showtime drama The Chi. It also, inevitably, was compared to Jordan Peele’s 2019 horror film Us, both because of the title and because they each feature actress Shahadi Wright Joseph as a strong-willed eldest child.

LM said that the word “them” was the first one that came to his mind when he was conceiving a name for the project — something that happened before he’d heard of Us. He also claims the casting was also coincidental; he was busy making a TV show and didn’t have time to concentrate on when the movie’s hiring was announced.

And while neither Thomas nor Ayorinde say they know if (or how) they’d be in a second season of the anthology, LM says the plan is for “the people and the time period and the place will be different every season.”

“As we move forward in our progression of the anthology, the hope is to take folks who have been historically marginalized or pushed to the sides of those frames and really center them in their own tales of American terror every year,” he said.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of them out there.

Them premieres on Friday, April 9 on Amazon Prime Video.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

spain finale BET PBS Sundance BAFTA Biopics casting Ovation Action RT History Arrowverse harry potter Oscars joker kids Alien latino Adult Swim Awards Tour sports jamie lee curtis A&E San Diego Comic-Con book Rock E! chucky spanish language social media spanish Western X-Men spinoff video on demand Comics on TV Calendar 2019 Trivia SundanceTV Film Festival thriller Pop sequels Song of Ice and Fire Schedule VH1 TCA 2017 Premiere Dates james bond CMT Star Wars superhero period drama award winner ABC Signature Bravo DC streaming service PaleyFest Apple TV Plus Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cancelled TV shows Lifetime First Reviews teaser razzies sitcom Marvel Television The Witch USA Network fresh animated indiana jones tv talk TCA crime Television Critics Association Television Academy witnail Fall TV cancelled television serial killer TV stoner Sundance Now cancelled psycho Winners Hear Us Out Amazon Studios Sony Pictures MSNBC foreign mockumentary 2020 Binge Guide Mindy Kaling Quiz Disney Channel pirates of the caribbean FX on Hulu trailers APB DC Comics Captain marvel Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 2016 Sci-Fi halloween Holidays Vudu theme song telelvision canceled Spectrum Originals Crackle prank name the review VOD toronto Comedy Central football politics hollywood doctor who strong female leads Avengers ESPN DC Universe independent cats Epix GLAAD ratings game of thrones LGBT PlayStation aliens richard e. Grant Black History Month Reality Competition MTV Ellie Kemper Election BET Awards Academy Awards japanese robots Sundance TV Tumblr christmas movies El Rey ViacomCBS Disney+ Disney Plus Ghostbusters fast and furious TV Land Crunchyroll cartoon Family IFC Nat Geo batman mission: impossible Photos mutant Comic Book Acorn TV supernatural ITV Film all-time science fiction Universal deadpool Cosplay FOX Chernobyl vampires cancelled TV series festival Tubi Podcast Video Games WGN Women's History Month Apple TV+ diversity unscripted golden globe awards king kong Columbia Pictures Travel Channel reviews adaptation stop motion boxoffice travel Stephen King DirecTV spy thriller scary movies Elton John TCM australia VICE Fox Searchlight TBS AMC Musical 71st Emmy Awards Fantasy screenings The Academy Showtime TruTV Pop TV sequel Exclusive Video rom-coms space Discovery Channel Warner Bros. Hulu nature The Arrangement Superheroes child's play Marathons cooking 2021 TLC Mudbound Dark Horse Comics zero dark thirty franchise television Logo Food Network hispanic revenge dogs godzilla Lifetime Christmas movies TCA Winter 2020 universal monsters 72 Emmy Awards HBO Go Teen historical drama TV renewals Emmy Nominations GoT Cartoon Network Hallmark Christmas movies MCU Mary Poppins Returns 4/20 OWN HBO ABC based on movie Turner directors ABC Family Esquire Tomatazos NBC cars SXSW Comedy Amazon Horror TCA Awards GIFs slashers BBC One Peacock YouTube Premium medical drama Infographic E3 Mary poppins kaiju HBO Max french Netflix Christmas movies RT21 Amazon Prime true crime crime drama Mary Tyler Moore President movie Amazon Prime Video movies Watching Series ghosts Netflix Legendary The Purge Trophy Talk OneApp binge cops Music TNT Drama romantic comedy sag awards dceu hidden camera green book best Nickelodeon Marvel First Look History remakes Paramount dragons biography Rocketman spider-man CBS All Access streaming rotten 2017 Kids & Family kong TV One Creative Arts Emmys LGBTQ Awards Disney Pride Month Shondaland YA video anthology Britbox elevated horror Broadway CNN BBC America Reality Animation popular The CW Box Office police drama Brie Larson monster movies 45 blockbusters political drama reboot Character Guide Heroines Star Trek American Society of Cinematographers rt archives children's TV Emmys justice league documentary Masterpiece dramedy 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards crossover Sneak Peek asian-american Disney streaming service Lionsgate YouTube Red Classic Film Summer Writers Guild of America canceled TV shows Funimation concert WarnerMedia DGA Holiday 20th Century Fox Spike Extras composers parents obituary Freeform comedies emmy awards archives critics Winter TV stand-up comedy Superheroe dark Mystery laika comiccon superman IFC Films Valentine's Day A24 comic books psychological thriller italian nfl Thanksgiving blockbuster Certified Fresh USA Spring TV See It Skip It hist 21st Century Fox renewed TV shows Polls and Games adventure SDCC south america TIFF women versus golden globes 2015 romance talk show technology Starz Anna Paquin satire crime thriller transformers halloween tv Countdown Pixar Disney Plus 24 frames quibi Christmas Rom-Com cinemax die hard blaxploitation werewolf what to watch comics 007 Country The Walking Dead nbcuniversal dc Pet Sematary Red Carpet classics Shudder YouTube ID natural history NYCC Pirates FX Interview Marvel Studios black zombie Tarantino venice Black Mirror zombies Cannes singing competition Opinion National Geographic criterion 2018 anime breaking bad miniseries documentaries indie Grammys Fox News worst movies toy story boxing New York Comic Con Lucasfilm discovery Turner Classic Movies worst Musicals Baby Yoda 99% Toys CBS Paramount Network twilight festivals series free movies Set visit docudrama jurassic park docuseries game show comic rotten movies we love BBC a nightmare on elm street FXX Super Bowl cults The Walt Disney Company news war Paramount Plus Rocky Nominations Syfy scorecard Apple disaster Walt Disney Pictures screen actors guild CW Seed Endgame Year in Review films Best and Worst Hallmark facebook Martial Arts Trailer