Movie Review – They (2002)

Julia, a psychology grad student, meets a childhood friend, Billy, at a diner late at night who, after babbling about “they” and the night terrors they shared as children, unexpectedly shoots himself. At the funeral Julia meets two of Billy’s other friends who also had night terrors, and they begin to suspect that what terrorized them as children might be real and is returning to get them now. This is actually a great premise for a film, exploring childhood fears and what could lurk in the dark places. Unfortunately, They (2002), directed by The Hitcher’s (1986) Robert Harmon, never rises above mediocrity, despite providing a few jump scares and an atmospheric setting. It is a ready-for-cable, PG-13 horror movie that never really tries to break from the formula and trappings that so often plague movies of that rating.

They does well at creating tension-filled scenes without relying on sex and gore to keep our attention, and the CGI creatures are actually quite good, but the thinly-written characters and plot ensure that we care nothing for the fate of the victims. Julia is played by a capable Laura Regan whose performance nevertheless lacks the depth needed to empathize with the audience. Other characters do little except provide for a predictable body count. Indeed most of the scares, though some being effective, are of the clichéd variety. Nevertheless, rare moments of genuine creepiness, such as the face of a little girl paused on a television screen, rarely shine through.

The script is credited to Brandon Hood, but is actually the result of numerous rewrites by many authors, and it shows as it is, overall, uninterested in providing explanations for what is going on, and may explain the presence of so many plot points that go nowhere. Truly, the story continually forgoes following interesting plot-lines in preference for hitting the tired old horror steps. For instance, rolling blackouts are mentioned many times throughout the film, but they are never used within the script. The fact that the creatures can affect light makes the mention entirely pointless. Additionally, the characters make absurd decisions which ensure they put themselves in harm’s way even when they know danger is lurking. This is most illustrative when Julia abandons the security of her boyfriend’s well-lit apartment for a deserted subway at two in the morning, knowing full-well that the creatures coming to get her move in darkness. It is difficult to care for such a profoundly stupid character.

Similarly, Julia being a psychology student is significant in alluding to the possibility that the events she is witnessing are merely playing out in her mind, and that her sanity is in question. This aspect is explored more fully in an alternate ending which is ultimately more interesting and helps to fix some of the narrative shortcomings of the rest of the film.

They is a film that might have been promising, but is ultimately forgettable.

Grade: D