They (2002)

After psychology student Julia witnesses her friend’s suicide, she begins to notice the signs of an unholy entity stalking her. Now as rolling blackouts plague New York, she begins to be stalked by creatures that live in the shadows, “They”, now as her friends begin disappearing, she must search for a way to stop “They”, but are they real or figments of her mind and trauma? Director Robert Harmon who helmed the cult classic “The Hitcher” (one of my favorites), and the little seen “Highwaymen” goes to work on this film, and boy can this dude direct. He has it down; the mood, the tone, the feelings of dread and sorrow followed by the creepy creatures that go bump in the night, and I was sucked in right from the beginning.

Instantly he sets the mood as we watch the victims being taken away by “They” and he manages to present some startling and breathtaking visuals along with cinematographer René Ohashi capture the dread and feeling of isolation required for a mood horror piece such as this. I was startled by the dark blue and deep dark gray tones presented in many of the scenes and they click perfectly. They use darkness and shadows, and tragedy to break into the real world to kidnap the children, and while we may not know what they are, we’re sparked with curiosity as to their origins. The themes presented in the film are universal centering about childhood fears of the dark and the tragedies involved with psychological torment. What are the creatures? What are “They”? That’s for the audience to decide, and that’s what made this movie so enjoyable. We’re never told what these creatures are and where they come from which actually lets the audience come up with their own conclusions.

They use tar for some odd reason, and they’re very fast; it’s hinted that they’re Incubi, or perhaps bogeymen from another dimension but we’re never truly given an explanation and that’s what makes it fun. It leaves a lot for the imagination and the audience. Director Harmon knows how to direct a horror film with scenes that build-up and then explode leaving the audience tense and entertained. There were scenes of sheer sleek visuals with the very grim and somber motif; some of the best scenes were the glimpses into the world of the creatures. The characters are pretty interesting considering the scarce dialogue and poor development. Along with that, there are some truly interesting and exciting sequences involving the climax where the character Julia is stranded in the subway attempting to escape “they”, her attempt to unfold the mystery behind “they” soon discovering that her friend’s incoherent ramblings actually made a lot of sense.

There’s many plot set-ups and foreboding tension amidst the story including the rolling blackouts across New York and the upcoming full blackout that will give “They” a clear passage into our world leaving them a free pass to kidnap plenty o’ children; there are also many scenes in which the director relies on tension to get the audience wound up including the great scene involving the pool, and the final minutes of the film. Some may not like the last moments of the film, and the resolution of the characters, but I thought it was excellent. It was a sure sign that these creatures got the power to toy and destroy, and it you realize this was just a tale of a woman who crossed paths with these creatures and lost, not only that, but there’s the inevitable blackout which will lead to the feasting and kidnapping of children. It’s perfect horror fodder for people looking to kill time and have fun.

After witnessing her friend’s suicide, Julia must deal with her own traumatic childhood issues while she and two others are being stalked by mysterious creatures that shroud themselves in darkness. Is she being stalked by benevolent creatures from hell or is it her own psychological torment finally taking toll on her?  I didn’t know what to make of this; while the ingredients are here for a perfectly tasty horror stew, it all goes down so wrong. As always, there are characters in the film that one dimensional, disposable, and drastically underdeveloped.

We get Julia (Laura Regan: My Little Eye, Someone Like You) who is very underdeveloped as a character and looks just plain bored, her rocky relationship to paramedic Paul Loomis who pops in and out of the movie and never really plays a pivotal role in the story, Ethan Embry plays Sam an artist who has a link with Julia but is just a caricature of a bad-ass machismo dude, and Terry who is so underdeveloped it’s hard to explain what she does in the film exactly. Anyways, the disappearances begin rising and Julia begins suspecting that she’s being stalked while around town the lights begin flickering and blackouts increasing along with many unanswered questions and plot holes. There are plot developments that are never truly touched upon or don’t add up. We know these characters are marked and are being taken, but why? Why are they so special? Why do the creatures want them? What connection do they bear to each other? What makes them a prime target? What did they do to fight off the creatures in the first place? Do the creatures only take children and why do the creatures only take children?

Why are they called Night Terrors and not nightmares? Is it a copyright issue from Craven? Why do the creatures call the main character Julia on the phone only to gurgle on the other line? Is there telephones in alternate dimensions? It’s never resolved, so while we’re being being led into a drawn out story, we’re not sure what is there to watch exactly. As far as plot developments go, there’s little to none, and most of the developments that occur aren’t much to notice. At the opening of the film, Julia is called by an old friend who is noticeably distressed and psychotic and begins warning her about the creatures in very vague explanations and tells her to look out for warning signs, then proceeds to blow his brains out. What was the scene with his suicide about? What relevance did it hold to the film? He suddenly pops into the film without any real purpose, we watch him blow his brains out and Julia barely reacts considering she claims they’re childhood friends only dismissing him as crazy and still as the signs begin appearing that he warned her about, she continues to ignore them.

The creatures in the film are hard to make out, and I was never sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. This attempts to pull off an “Alien” by showing off certain parts of the creatures bodies and keeping them shrouded in darkness but it was odd watching their hands and bodies which made them look a lot like aliens. Otherwise, the film has no idea what it wants to be, there are themes of trauma, it’s never resolved, there are themes of creatures from another dimension, it’s never resolved, there’s Julia’s relationship with her boyfriend that is left incomplete and the ending which I really liked but was all too abrupt. At least the last ten minutes of the film work as a spooky book end and really stuck with me.