Wes Craven presents: They
Are you afraid of the dark? You should be.
Running Time: 89 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Remember when you were a child, how there was a period after the lights had been turned out when you would hide under the covers, terrified of the darkness and the things that it concealed? This most primal of fears is exploited in Robert Harmon's 'They', a film which conjures half-seen terrors from the darkness and reduces us all to quivering children. Bucking the parodic trend of late-1990s horror films like 'Scream' and 'The Faculty', 'They' is not funny, and 'They' is not postmodern – but it is very scary, and very dark (in every sense of the word).
After her father's suicide, five-year old Julia Lund suffered horrific nightmares, and was sent to a psychiatrist. Now, nineteen years later, Julia is herself a graduate student in psychology; but after she witnesses the suicide of a manic friend (who also suffered night terrors as a child), Julia's nightmares return with renewed ferocity. Her former psychiatrist diagnoses Julia's condition as 'post-traumatic stress' and 'paranoid schizophrenic delusions', but Julia becomes convinced that she is being pursued by rapacious, light-fearing creatures from another world…
Anyone who has seen 'Darkness Falls' will find the whole premise of photophobic nightmare creatures all too familiar, but 'They' is not only the earlier, but also the (vastly) superior of the two films, opting to give less away on screen, and so leaving far more to the viewer's darkest imagination. The presence of the creatures that persecute Julia is felt throughout the film, but they remain shadowy figures, merely half-glimpsed and constantly in motion, inhabiting only the dark recesses which elude celluloid's visual grasp. Rarely have creature modelling and computer generated imaging been used with such effective restraint, turning less into so much more – and 'They' ends with an image so numbingly claustrophobic, and so hysterically irrational, that it will haunt your dreams long after the film is over.
Recently we saw the end of an era when Jamie Lee Curtis' long-standing 'Haloween' character was killed off for good in the awful 'Halloween Resurrection', but with Laura Regan (who looks like Curtis' elfin daughter) as impressive here in the rôle of Julia as she was in the recent 'My Little Eye', it seems there's a new scream queen in town. Long may she reign!
It's Got: A heroine descending into nightmarish hysteria, CGI creatures that you never properly see (to stunningly creepy effect), and very moody lighting
It Needs: If this were any other film, I would say to have brighter lighting...
DVD Extras Theres just a theatrical trailer, and a very short alternate ending - but the alternate ending is definitely worth seeing. This is the perfect complement to the original film, resolving its central ambiguity (is Julia in trouble, or just insane?) in such a radically different way that it may well inspire you to watch the film all over again. A very brief addition which nonetheless proves every bit as haunting as the original ending, and in many ways cleverer. DVD Extras Rating: 4/10
Despite being almost completely overlooked upon its original cinematic release, and resorting desperately to the 'Wes Craven presents' imprimatur to gain attention, 'They' is an atmospheric, carefully controlled piece of psychological horror about the impossibility of casting light upon the irrational. Its subtle use of shadow and gloom is best appreciated with the lights turned down, but do keep in mind that 'they come for you when it's dark'.