After almost 90 minutes of stodgy "what's that in the shadows?" jump-frights and a whole lot of foot dragging, there is exactly one chilling conceptual payoff moment at the end of the nightmare-themed horror movie "Wes Craven Presents: They."
But of course I wouldn't give away that ending, so let me tell you the only thing you need to know to understand how utterly mediocre this flick is: Horror meister Wes Craven ("Scream," "Nightmare on Elm Street," etc.) didn't write, direct or even produce this movie -- but Dimension Films knew they couldn't sell it on its own merits, so they paid him for his titular above-title endorsement.
The plot follows four college kids who as children all had night terrors in which evil somethings came to drag them away in the dark. Nineteen years later the suicide of one of the four leads the remaining three to a slow realization: "That's when they marked us, and now they're back!"
Whatever "They" are, they're pretty inept at getting what they want, which is apparently to abduct our protagonists. The vaguely blobish, leathery, tentacled monster things (they never come into any kind of light, which does make for suspense in every shadow) pass up several perfectly good opportunities to snatch stick-thin, bob-haired heroine Julia (Laura Regan) for no reason except that the movie would be over too soon if they did. Therefore much of her screen time consists of seeing movement in dark corners that then amounts to nothing.
Director Robert Harmon ("The Hitcher") builds up and releases healthy doses of ominous atmosphere from time to time, as when another victim (Ethan Embry) shows Julia the nightmarish, black-on-black paintings he creates as an outlet for the overwhelming dread that's eating away at him. Harmon also does a reasonably effective job of making the unseen monsters literally crackle with unknown menace (the creatures' bodies make eerie popping, cracking, rustling noises as they move through the dark).
But "They" is such a shoulder shrug of a horror movie that even the monsters' fear of light seems to be applied arbitrarily. "They" pull one victim down an elevator shaft that has been shown in several earlier shots to have sunlight streaming through windows all the way up and down.
If the entire movie had been half as disquieting as the final shot before the credits roll, there might have been potential here for a really scary B-movie experience. Instead, "They" isn't likely to satisfy anyone but horror movie junkies with low standards.
And P.S.: What kind of screwed-up mentality inspires a studio to release a horror movie on Thanksgiving weekend? Even more troublesome, what kind of screwed-up person goes to see a horror movie on Thanksgiving weekend?
Run time: 89 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 27th November 2002
Box Office USA: $12.6M
Distributed by: Arts For The Free Spirit
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 4.8 / 10
Director: Robert Harmon
Starring: Dennis Miller as Himself
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