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Stay Away from They

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They (PG-13)
Dimension Films

With the exception of second-date couples looking for an excuse to grope each other, I'm afraid They won't please any film-going camp.

Horror Fans: This film about creepy crawly critters coming out of the closet to terrorize selected members of the critically hip 20- to 25-year-old demographic lacks both the lore and the gore necessary to make this "Wes Craven Presents" production anything but an insult to the genre -- much less the architect of Freddy Krueger.

Artsy Fartsy Cineastes: Remember how Rosemary's Baby and the Blair Witch Project used the power of suggestion, character and folklore to scare you from the inside out? Wasn't it that much more terrifying that you never saw the baby or the witch? Well, They uses Dolby Digital surround sound and genre clichs to do nothing more than shout "Boo!" -- over and over. This film lacks the subtlety of exposition, the caliber of thespian talent and the exchange of ideas to make it worth your consideration. In fact, don't even register this film in your internal movie database. Your friends would only be disturbed by your capacity to remember it. Go back to Kieslowski's Decalogue.

Postmodern Ironists: Unlike the Scream series, They offers little by way of self-referential mockery and witty pop-culture allusions. In fact, it doesn't even ascend to the Ed Wooden throne of the so-bad-it's-good camp. Not only is there no Burt Bacharach score, but vulnerable young women commit genre crimes of unforgivable gormlessness. They drive deserted roads at night -- alone; swim in dank, deserted health club pools -- alone. After half an hour, one finds it necessary to root full-steam for the creepy crawlies -- or anything else that might punish the young women's stupidity.

Focus on the Family: They offers no solace in the inherent righteousness of the traditional family unit. The film contains cursing, violence, premarital fornication and an utter paucity of references to the teachings of James Dobson. That said, there is also no depiction of gay or lesbians receiving domestic partner health benefits from a local government.

They follows three well-coifed 20-somethings, led by Julia (Laura Regan), a psychology grad student whose twiggy frame suggests an undergraduate major in bulimia. Other victims include the darkly comic painter Sam (Ethan Embry) and the merely dark Terry (Dagmara Dominczyk). The three meet after the suicide of their friend Billy (Jon Abrahams) and soon learn that not only do they share a mutually deceased friend, but childhood experiences of traumatic night terrors.

By reading Billy's cryptic journals, Sam surmises that the night stalkers of their youth have returned to harvest them. All three characters discover a large scab mark -- a sort of demonic UPC code -- on their bodies confirming their imminent demise.

As Terry and Sam are sucked into the netherworld, we learn little more than that Julia is next. At no time does she decide to strap on some attitude and kick demonic ass. Instead, she screams around the city -- conveniently experiencing rolling blackouts -- and into the arms of her strappingly rational beau (Marc Blucas).

Ultimately Julia surrenders her better judgement to a pat, post-traumatic stress diagnosis through the assistance of a tweedy psychologist. Is she crazy? Or are they really after her? A trite ending provides no satisfying conclusion, only a potential scenario for They II. (They better not...)

I almost forgot one vital audience class:

Snarky Film Critics: This celluloid travesty provides you with a fleeting sense of purpose: to save people's time and money. Hopefully all 12 of your faithful readers will do something constructive with their leisure time like go and see Far from Heaven or try out a new soup recipe. At the very least, perhaps some wayward couple will make the most of these 89 minutes by groping each other in the dark.

-- John Dicker

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