They is this year’s apparent last gasp of a horror film. They is pretty lame. They looks like They was made for the bottom half of a double-bill at a drive-in that no one told the filmmakers had closed 25 years ago. All right, enough fun with grammar; I’ll stop trying to make my editor and the occasional English teacher cringe. The simple fact, however, is that They isn’t just cheese, it’s processed cheese-food product.
Director Robert Harmon entered the film world in 1986 with an above-average thriller, The Hitcher, and has worked in the thriller or horror genre (usually on TV) ever since. Maybe doing TV shows for UPN addled his sense of structure — and his judgment. No doubt after a UPN series, a theatrical film — no matter how silly — probably looked pretty good. That may explain his presence on this movie project, which has occasional flashes of a director trying to make something out of nothing. And he nearly succeeds with a swimming-pool sequence obviously modeled on the one in Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People. Also, he manages to cook up a handful of jolts of the kind that have little or nothing to do with the plot, not to mention the occasional arresting composition.
A sequence that takes place in a deserted subway is well done on its own merits, but undermined by bad scripting (not to mention suffering by comparison with a similar scene in the recent Fear Dot Com). As for the much-touted “participation” of Wes Craven … anybody remember the bit in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back where Craven is making the 160th installment of the Scream series and Shannen Doherty finds herself being attacked by a masked orangutan, only to yell in disgust, “Jesus, Wes! You don’t even try anymore!”? Well, that — and a chunk of change — must factor into Craven’s name on this movie. You can search the credits all day long and you’ll never find Craven’s name in any capacity — except as a hook to sell the film. And what is he selling? It’s sort of a poor man’s Nightmare on Elm Street with fewer jolts, less wit and no subtext.
Julia Lund (Laura Regan) suffered from night terrors as a child and, now, as an adult, those terrors have come back. They have also returned to haunt a friend of hers, who takes her out to dinner and promptly shoots himself in the head right across the table from her (that’s one way to get out of leaving a tip). Soon it becomes obvious that these night terrors are real entities and that they’re coming to get Julia — and anyone else the little woolly boogers marked for collection when the future victims were children.
So why are they collecting these folks? You might also rightly wonder just how these “They” manage to stick a marker about the size of a ballpoint pen in their youthful victims, and no one ever notices it; but you’re not going to get an answer on that score either. Then there’s the question of just exactly what these “They” are. Well, we never see them very clearly, but they seem to be cross between a spider and a bat, and they live behind medicine cabinets, under beds and at the backs of closets — and along occasional deserted highways. They also scurry about a good bit and make cute little noises that are more apt to produce chuckles than chills.
But as to what they are, what they want, or any other question … who knows? Screenwriter Brendan Hood sure doesn’t. Director Harmon doesn’t seem to care, and neither is it likely that you will.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke