aka Wes Craven Presents They : USA 2002 : Robert Harmon : 95mins (approx)

A by-the-numbers b-movie horror filler, They provides another showcase for long-necked Canadian scream-queen Laura Regan after her ensemble chiller My Little Eye. Eye director Marc Evans deliberately cast and lit Regan with the aim of emphasising her resemblance to a young Mia Farrow, and Robert (The Hitcher) Harmon pulls similar tricks this time around. Like Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Regan’s character Julie experiences disturbing phenomena which outsiders assure her are all in the mind.

In Julie’s case, she gradually suspects/realises that our world is being infiltrated by slimy, fast-moving creatures from another dimension which only come out in the dark – afflicting certain individuals who had suffered ‘night terrors’ in their youth. These include Julie’s childhood pal Billy (Jon Abrahams), who is driven to suicide by his ‘phantoms’, and his friends Terry (Dagmara Dominczyk) and Sam (Ethan Embry). As she too starts sensing the insidious presence of the unnamed ‘they’, Julie seeks solace and help from her medic boyfriend Paul (Josh Blucas) and psychiatrist Dr Booth (Jay Brazeau). But ‘they’ will not be easily dispatched.

They is billed as ‘a Wes Craven presentation’ – but the credits don’t indicate any Craven input in terms of direction, script or production. He should be more careful about which projects he allows to carry his name – They isn’t quite as shoddy as the last Craven presentation Dracula 2000, but neither will it boost the Scream king’s reputation much. Though subway sequences strongly recall Guillermo Del Toro’s Mimic, They‘s basic premise of light-hating beasties is a direct steal from Pitch Black. It’s an idea which stretches back to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a disproportionately seminal TV movie from 1973 which remains the most satisfyingly disturbing variation on the theme.

Dark ends on a roughly similar downbeat note to They, whose final seconds also owe a major visual debt to the behind-the-looking-glass climax of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. It’s a strong ending, not least because we’re audaciously left ‘in the dark’ (as it were) about exactly what’s been going on. But this agreeably tantalising climax is much more than the film deserves – They badly loses its way in the middle section – the introduction and development of Terry and Sam as creature-fodder is especially clumsily handled. There’s no explanation in Brendan Hood’s script for Terry’s slight but noticeable accent – which means Dominczyk just comes across as stilted, mangling her ‘big speech’ in which she recalls a supposedly terrifying childhood incident. “That’s when I stabbed my father in the eye with a kitchen knife” Terry drones, in a manner much more likely to provoke giggles than chills.

Embry is excellent value in his limited appearances as the amusingly sardonic Pollock-wannabe Sam, but the film grinds to a halt during any scene that features either Paul or Dr Booth – it’s no reflection on either Blucas or Brazeau, but their characters are purely functional, getting Julie from A to B to Z, and Paul is as ditchwater-dull a boyfriend as you’ll see in a movie this year. Regan has some very convincing moments where her character is overcome with terror – especially one icky bit when she messily pulls a long shard of plastic out of her head. But the rickety, undeveloped script means that few viewers are likely to share he mounting anguish, no matter how plausibly the actress socks it over.

10th November, 2002
(seen 7th November, Showcase Stockton)

by Neil Young