They is a horror tease that never puts out. Things clatter insectlike in the night; their fleeting shadows crawl prowling from walls; they drive those they stalk into failing light before sinking into them and dragging them away into the darkness that lies beneath a child’s bed or behind a young woman’s mirror. Who or what are these dark predators of the night? Where do they come from, and why?
Director Robert Harmon’s (best known for his psycho-killer cult flick, The Hitcher) low-key pictures and writer Brendan William Hood’s dialogue tell a tale that opens by partially answering the “who.” But they uncover not the predators but their prey: children suffering from night terrors who mysteriously disappear and return frenzied and on the verge of the homicidal.
Children grow up so fast — especially nightmare-afflicted ones, it seems. Soon we meet Julia Lund (Laura Regan), an all-American skinny waif who promises to be our “final girl,” our sole surviving heroine.
Like all things repressed (at least according to Freud), her childhood friend, Billy (Jon Abrahams), returns into her life. Billy ends up inflicting another psychological trauma on top of her therapy-managed childhood ones. In the aftermath, Julia meets two of Billy’s other friends also bound to him by a shared history of night terrors. All three are doomed to meet the terrible titular They.
If you buy the Freudian theory that sex is one of the primary forces that organize our psyches, then scary movies may be the strip shows and porn of our repressed horrors. The successful fright film first tantalizingly teases us with the unknown, then gives it up in a money shot of abject revelation. Once in a while, Hood and Harmon unbutton They’s cinematic lips, but its visual murmurations never satisfactorily answer the questions they provoke.
They leads us on with scary mysteries that end up failing as horror-show turn-ons. And when it finally leads us into its unknowns, it turns out the lights, fading to black as if to tease, “I’ll never tell.”
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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