The terror is real -- that of Miramax executives, anyway, as their Dimension division refused to screen its new creature feature Wes Craven Presents: They for critics, lest we go all crazy and tell you about it. But just to show a sporting attitude, let's offer up some potentially useful "rave quotes" and see if they're desperate enough to cut and paste 'em: The scariest movie of the year . . . is most definitely not They! They will have you on the edge of your seat . . . as you get up after five minutes to go play video games! They will blow your mind . . . if you're extremely dull-witted! Or: If you see only one horror movie this week . . . skip They and catch Bowling for Columbine!
Heck, all horror movies -- including the B- to Z-grade cheeseballs -- comprise one of life's most satisfying guilty pleasures, but occasionally the word "sucks" rears its mean little head and there's no choice but to say it. Thus, with no further ado: They sucks. (That sounds like our brainy president appraising Arabs, but it's really the best way to short-form this slop.) Director Robert Harmon (The Hitcher) may have some tricks up his sleeve, but they pretty much stay up there as he struggles to lively up Brendan William Hood's gobbledygook screenplay about childhood demons who return to hassle young adults in what's essentially Pitch Black on Elm Street Goes to Hell.
Our heroine is Julia (Laura Regan), one of those pert blond skeletons who generally prove disagreeable in real life. We're supposed to feel for her, though, because she's a psychology major who keeps analyzing herself after her childhood friend Billy (John Abrahams) goes crazy in the first few minutes of the movie and blows his own brains out across the table from her in one of those movie diners called "DINER." No police report is filed, and the skeptical Julia is put straight to bed by her boyfriend Paul (Marc Blucas), who keeps almost undressing her to titillate the teens, but soon enough things get modestly weird. Seems that both Billy (shown as a creeped-out child in the movie's prologue) and Julia suffered from "night terrors" 20 years earlier, and now the nebulous but definitely unpleasant monsters are back, and they're real.
To be fair, there is a concept here: that light-loathing, spiderlike creatures from another dimension mark little children with implants, then return later in life to claim them. That's fine. It's also pretty serviceable that the children in question are wounded psychologically, so their episodes with the creatures are directly related to vulnerabilities caused by childhood trauma. Right on. It's even cool that the evil threat -- onscreen and in theory -- is kept extremely vague, kind of like Jeepers Creepers except not embarrassingly stupid.
The problem is that Hood's screenplay sputters along like a lousy first draft accidentally rescued from the circular file. There's a whiff of interesting material surrounding Billy -- his freaked-out life, his mad journal entries -- but the other characters are dumb as posts. Since these movies need expendable meat, we get Sam (Ethan Embry) and Terry (Dagmara Dominczyk), two of Billy's friends who counter the monsters with bright tactics such as shoving their heads into dark ventilation pipes, going swimming at a creepy indoor pool and climbing into an already terrifying industrial elevator. Not that Julia's much smarter. Her way of contending with the demons during the finale is to abandon the safety of Paul's apartment and run screaming into an abandoned subway tunnel. College girl, y'know.
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Sometimes less is more, and doubtless some moviegoers will be intrigued enough by what is not said in They to afford it some mild mystique. Other than that, though, the movie's a generic formality, a sorry excuse for western Canadian film technicians formerly employed by The X-Files to collect a few new paychecks. Props to the swirling mix of sound effects and some nifty angles from Harmon, but otherwise this is one to miss. However, in closing, here's a special bonus "rave" designed for honest advertising in the vital urban market: Who fulla shit? They fulla shit!