has a simple but promising concept. What if the monsters you were
afraid of as a little kid -- the ones under your bed and in your closet -- were
real? And not in a cuddly
way. They are back, and this time, your mom's not around
to close the closet door and turn on your night light.
They is a "grown up" horror movie. The main characters aren't in high school
or college. They've got jobs or are doing post-graduate work. And They
mostly manages to avoid the screamingly lame stuff normally associated with horror
movies: bad acting, bad FX, transparent attempts to be hip, one or two obligatory
nude scenes for the thirteen-year-old boys. Here's a horror movie that doesn't
rely on a high body count or a high booty count. It doesn't feel like sleazy teensploitation
or a jokey Scream rip-off. The people involved in the film -- the director,
the writer, the actors -- give it the old (graduate) college try, earnest and
straight-faced, and manage to make the single most bland and uninteresting horror
movie in recent memory.
The acting is believable. Ethan Embry (Empire Records, Can't Hardly Wait,
and the short-lived TV show Freaky Links) is the most recognizable player,
and the most fun to watch. Marc Blucas plays the stalwart-but-clueless boyfriend,
as dependable as a two-by-four, and just about as interesting -- a role he perfected
as Riley Finn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The monsters are suitably slimy and vague, like the gray and shadowed things on
the cover of an H.P. Lovecraft book. There's a fair amount of cheap but effective
jump-in-your-seat scares. But there's no real sense of dread or urgency to keep
the movie going in between the "Boo! Gotcha." moments. One of the characteristics
of They is that They can only get you in the dark. They also have the ability
to short-circuit light sources, both electric and battery-powered. But it's hard
to get involved in the struggle of the characters to keep from being pulled into
the dark by They, because 1) Their tendency to use their short-circuiting powers
follows no rhyme or reason and 2) Their sensitivity to light varies greatly. For
example, in one scene, the flash of a lighter is enough to stave off one of Them,
but (SPOILER IN THIS SENTENCE) in one scene They manage to snatch somebody, even
though full daylight is coming in through one window.
The lack of consistency leads one to the conclusion that the survival of the characters
depends not on their own actions, but on the determination of the screenwriter
of what is the proper time to kill somebody off. . As such, there's a monotonous
inevitability to even the "payoff" scenes.
You pretty much have to bring your own fears to the movie, because They
isn't going to put any new ones in you. I mean, the creaky elevator shaft and
the improbably abandoned gymnasium pool are only scary, like, the first three
hundred and fifty-eight times. Been there, yawned at that. Horror-wise, the scariest
thing is the vicarious ick factor of watching the main character pull a bone-like
fragment of mysterious origins from a festering sore on her forehead.
After watching They, I found myself feeling strangely nostalgic about Jeepers
Creepers. Sure, it was silly and stupid, but I at least walked out of
the theater with the sense that I enjoyed myself.
I keep racking my brain to come up with a horror movie released in the last four
years that was less interesting than They. The parts of Legion
of the Dead were sewn together with all the skill of an inebriated Dr.
Ghosts of Mars was unwaveringly unremarkable. Hollow Man, The Haunting,
Park III were bloated beasts from the deepest bowels of the Hollywood
dumbassery. And Soul
Survivors and FearDotCom were trashtacular crapsterpieces of staggeringly
epic proportions. But every one of them was more fun to watch, in its own way,
They will draw some defenders from those who appreciate its attempt
to tell a straight-up horror tale. They'll point to some recent cinematic travesties
and say, "It's better than those movies. They isn't that bad." And they'll
be right. They isn't a bad movie. A bad movie would have been more entertaining.