Them (4 stars)

Them

Horrifying and hard-to-watch anthology series about a racist neighbourhood and its new embattled occupants

Wherever and whenever you check the news, racism's nightmare is only too real. Remould this harsh reality into a TV anthology horror setting, and rather than diluting the impact of bigotry with gore, special effects and jump scares, the makers of Them have actually succeeded in ramping up the terror. Certainly for this viewer, it works far better than last year's Lovecraft Country, the series it has already been compared to and which started off well enough but very quickly lost its way, mired and blooded with over-the-top CGI and befanged mouths of huge snakes filling the screen. From its threat-heavy opening scene, Them doesn't let up for a single second of its ten parts, a thrilling, despairing, and horrifying ride in which the worst aspects of humanity become more fearful than any spooks that may lurk in the basement.

It's 1953, and having just about survived a hillbilly hellhole in rural North Carolina, the Emory family seek an optimistic future in a quiet street of LA's Compton. But it swiftly becomes apparent that this all-white neighbourhood is not only unwelcoming, but downright viciously hostile, the string of black dolls hung up outside their window just one aspect of the constant torment being inflicted upon them.

Soon, we discover that Livia (Deborah Ayorinde) is burdened by a personal tragedy she can't shrug off, and Henry (Ashley Thomas) suffers from PTSD after serving his country in World War II. Both parents feel anguish at bringing their two young daughters into another disaster zone, with all four of them haunted by hallucinatory figures reminding them who they are and what they're trying to escape. Head of the family's mortal enemies is Betty (Alison Pill) who has her own personal demons to contend with, but instead of using them as a force for good she wields a malevolent power that turns the Emory home into a virtual prison.

There are scenes here that are almost too unbearable to watch and dialogue that pummels the ears as the Emorys are forced to defend themselves against a swelling tide of fear and ignorance. One impressive standalone episode in the back-half of the series puts this contemporary illness into its historical context, proving that the more things change, the more they stay the depressingly same way.

All episodes available now on Amazon Prime Video.

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