Them: The Scare balances real world horror with supernatural frights

“The Scare” - Courtesy Prime Video
“The Scare” - Courtesy Prime Video /

I have to admit that watching the first season of Them in 2021 was tough. Sometimes, it felt like violence just for the sake of violence, an unrelenting assault on a Black family that moved into a white neighborhood in the 1950s. Season 2, subtitled The Scare, feels superior all around, from show creator Little Marvin's writing to the political context to the performances. Them: The Scare is a well-crafted and harrowing season, steeped in 90s pop culture, with knockout performances from its main cast.

Deborah Ayorinde returns to the anthology series and stars at Detective Dawn Reeve, who's tasked with solving grisly murders, the likes of which leave her colleagues shaken. Besides trying to find a serial killer, she's at odds with her co-workers as she fights to make changes from within the LAPD, and she's in conflict with the Black community because the show takes place shortly after the release of the Rodney King tape. The Black community doesn't trust her, even though she entered law enforcement to fight for them.

Though the King tape isn't the focus of season 2, necessarily, show creator Little Marvin uses it to show its profound impact on some of The Scare's main characters, including Dawn and her teenage son, Kel (Joshua J. Williams). In one powerful sequence, Kel has a conversation with a female classmate about the tape and how it makes him feel. It's simply good storytelling that doesn't feel heavy-handed. He's a young Black man, witnessing historic events play out, while trying to process them and the fact that his mom works in law enforcement. His anger builds, rightfully so, the more he sees the images flash on TV.

THEM: The Scare - First Look
Pam Grier (Athena), Deborah Ayorinde (Dawn) /

Legendary actress Pam Grier stars as Dawn's mom, Athena. She gets plenty of screen time, and Grier turns in a compelling performance, playing a matriarch dealing with her own psychosis, family tensions, and what may or may not be a supernatural entity trying to separate her from the rest of the family. The first few episodes have quite a few tense moments that focus on Athena, specifically the danger she's in from outside forces and her own mind. Viewers will frequently wonder if she's going to unravel at any moment, or if she'll continue providing sound support to her family.

Luke James turns in a banger of a performance as Edmund Gaines, an aspiring Black actor who has to battle stereotypical casting. Not only that, but he longs for love and acceptance. His character really goes to some pretty dark places, which put a high demand on James as an actor, but he certainly meets the occasion. He even perfected an unsettling laugh that's featured in nearly every episode. James simply steals nearly every scene that he's in, while his character makes a larger statement about Hollywood, Black creatives, and typecasting.

THEM: The Scare - First Look
Luke James (Edmund) - Courtesy Prime Video /

Little Marvin managed to blend various subsets of horror. The first episode very much feels like Seven or even The Silence of the Lambs, while the season also takes on elements of a good old-fashioned slasher, with video store rental nods to classics like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Somehow, the mash-up works, which is again a credit to Little Marvin's writing, which feels much stronger and surer here compared to season 1.

While there are some brutal moments, especially when Dawn discovers the killer's victims, their bodies often contorted and posed in chilling fashion, this season feels more restrained in a good way. The suspense is certainly there. There's one sequence where Dawn dashes through a Black neighborhood, as residents jeer her and pelt her with items, and another where she twists and fits her body under a kitchen sink, trying to put herself in place of one of the victims to solve the murder. But these moments feel earned. The violence in season 2 doesn't feel as gratuitous or as non-stop as season 1. This allows more room for characterization and for narrative arcs to breathe a bit.

Overall, Them: The Scare makes for bingeworthy horror TV. It balances the real world trauma of the Rodney King tape with the supernatural. It's a frightful, high-octane season with several notable performances from its cast, especially James, Ayorinde, and Grier. The Scare is a major step up from season 1. Little Marvin gets the tone just right without sacrificing the socio-cultural elements.

Them: The Scare premieres on Prime Video on April 25.

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