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Just before we start, I have decided to hide certain parts of this text for those people who would rather approach this movie untainted. It's an experiment that I hope works here so just highlight the blank areas if so desired (call it a retro-interactive easter egg if you will). Any possible storyline reveals will hopefully be vague enough not to completely ruin your non-expectations of this film. However if you are one of the many "hack 'em up" fans who would rather watch another pointless blood-soaked gore-fest and basically hates all things requiring a brain to take in slow methodical storylines with, then leave now.

First came Stephen King with It and inevitably It would become pluralised to make They which is what Wes Craven has done. Mind you he didn't direct or even produce this feature, indeed his only credit is that of "presenter" - well, that's what IMDb says about it (er, they). Jokes aside, They features a director and cast of relative unknowns and is literally a breath of fresh air at a time when the market is being saturated by mindless "slasher" clones - these might as well be labelled Jason Lives Part 1036 ad infinitum for all the good they do for me. I actually need a bit more stimulation to satisfy my hunger for thrills and this is what makes They different to many other so-called horror films, mainly that it doesn't vainly fill the gaps in with irrelevant comic (or tension) relief<font color="#EEEEEE"> or even "defeat the enemy" </font>devices.

And before any of you get all uptight about it, Robert Harmon directed the classic The Hitcher in 1986.

They (Rental)
Movie
Julia (Laura Regan, Unbreakable) is a psychology student who has a caring, loving, understanding boyfriend Paul (Marc Loomis, Prey For Rock & Roll) and everything couldn't be rosier ... that is until Julia's childhood friend Billy (Jon Abrahams, Meet The Parents) calls to meet her. He tells her that the past "night terrors" they both experienced as children have come back to haunt him and that they may be more than just simple nightmares. It is here that all his years of torment come to an abrupt end in front of her and she then starts to relive these horrible memories once again.

Soon after this encounter she meets with two of his friends, Sam (Ethan Embury, Timeline) and Terry (Dagmara Dominczyk, The Count Of Monte Cristo) who have also been reliving these events just as Billy described them. They show her a diary that Billy kept of his research on this strange phenomenon over the years<font color="#EEEEEE"> although there is still very little that they are able to discover about what is happening to them all. </font>Is this actually a group consciousness of a real entity coming back to collect them from years past<font color="#EEEEEE"> or just some bizarre coincidence of similarly symptomatic thought processes striking them all at once</font>?

The closest example of a movie that has delivered a similarly affective horror in recent times is The Ring where you were never sure who or what was causing all the unrest in town, but suffice to say that They is a different beast altogether. There are bits of other films that seem to infiltrate this one, but that's only to be expected since eventually there's not much room left to create anything truly original these days. There are plot device elements from Pitch Black, trace elements of Mimic and even the sensory elements of Total Recall.

They (Rental)
The character development in <i >They[/i] may not be the most engrossing of all tales ever told, but the real intention here was to create the scariest environment imaginable (to quote one Luke Wilson in Armageddon) with the power of mystery.<font color="#EEEEEE"> An unknown force is hell bent on terrorising a few unfortunate souls who are the only ones privy to their existence, but these people are simply incapable of understanding what it is that They want. </font>It's this level of uncertainty and feeling of vulnerability which creates a genuine fear within us all and thus we become a reluctant participant in these events. This in turn makes us empathise and identify with the characters onscreen,<font color="#EEEEEE"> not only for the victims themselves but also for everyone else who sees their friends slowly descending into madness. </font>Thankfully the acting is also low key which doesn't lend itself to becoming melodramatic, which is what is needed in this kind of film.

The film certainly gets the heart going by tapping into our first ever fears as a child (that of monsters hiding in the darkness) and rides with that notion throughout the feature. The director's goal was to create an almost subliminal vision for us in the few sequences where the creatures appear within door cracks etc. This harks back to the earliest of our childhood perceptions which made you question whether or not you even saw anything else in the darkness other than your clothes. In an ironic twist, this is similar to the opening sequence of Monsters Inc but obviously without the slapstick resolution of that setup.

At the risk of spoiling this movie any further,<font color="#EEEEEE"> there is much that goes unanswered in the movie to the point that it ultimately doesn't matter where They come from or why They are here. </font>What counts is how each character interacts with each other and the result is surprisingly genuine on all levels. This honest portrayal of human reactions is sorely missed in nearly every movie made nowadays. The images that we see are also notably restrained from any huge reveals and this admirably enhances the suspense of what the characters are going through. Most filmmakers actually try too hard to be scary by going "big" with their shocks if not revealing too much way too soon. But They just plays around with our delicate sense of reality making this one of the most compelling psychological horror/thrillers I've seen in ages.

They (Rental)
Video
For the purposes of clarity, I've decided to brighten up the screenshots since my PC monitor in particular had difficulty rendering the much darker scenes. This isn't to say that the video quality is completely at fault because my television had no trouble realising these images for me. Since most of this movie plays at night or in darkly lit indoor rooms, some TV displays may have trouble reproducing the finely tuned highlights that have been generated for the film. This is an unfortunate side effect of the movie's creative process and it's something that will not please everyone who will want to give They a fair go.

The black levels are quite deep of course with the shadow detail okay in most scenes, but as far as the few monster shots are concerned the lack of any complete reveals is what was intended for in the first place. It might have paid to bump up the lighting in the rest of the film but this might have resulted in an inconsistency of image. Alas we have to make do with what was created here but at least there's no low-level noise to contend with. The colour scheme too is pretty much underplayed with its muted tonal structure and theme throughout, although you will occasionally be greeted with richer hues ranging from the cold blues and greens at the diner to the warm oranges inside the characters' homes.

Grain is mild with only a few really obtrusive instances, the odd white speck or three appears every few seconds and occasional bits of dirt and dust are on the print. Compression artefacts are non-existent but the focus is somewhat soft. Overall though, the image is detailed enough in the scenes for when the lights are meant to be on. But for all those really hair-raising sequences where you can only just make out what is going on the distance it is obviously what the director intended (gratefully I might add).

Generally speaking, this transfer is a challenge to watch at times but then most of these shortcomings were part of the director's strategy in creating a mood that confuses and unsettles its audience. So when you put this all in perspective you can't entirely blame the DVD compression here, although I'm sure that the spare 1Gb portion of this DVD could have been made use of as well.

Audio
Both the English Dolby Digital tracks (5.1 & 2.0) are effectively creepy but the 5.1 is the preferred listening environment. If you can remember the unnerving experience you had when watching Pitch Black and then added in the scuttling sounds derived from Aliens then you will know what to expect with They. For such an understated soundtrack there is much activity that takes place, however your awareness of it is usually dulled until you realise all too late that it has been creeping up from behind you.

They (Rental)
All six channels provide a beautifully disoriented feeling towards certain sound effects that surprise you with their unusual and sometimes unpredictable placements at times, the surround and front channels in particular offering both discrete locationing and wonderful ambience when required. The subwoofer too plays an important part in this movie (which is not overplayed here either) with its mainly brooding sounds providing a sense of dread to everything, however the obligatory thud is also produced at key moments. Dialogue is naturally easy to understand since it is mostly a spoken word production.

Technically the soundmix is the same to most others of this ilk, however the essential ingredient here is that you are sometimes not aware of how effective the emotional crescendo is until it reaches a particular peak. Also, the many everyday sounds that we take for granted are twisted on their heads and manipulated just subtly enough to make us think twice about what we are really hearing in this movie. Finally, the unassuming musical score supports, if not plays against, the anxiety portrayed in They.

This soundtrack is a wonderfully enveloping surround experience with the moody bass generating an equally ill-at-ease ambience. But apart from the creature sounds becoming a little too repetitive for my liking, this is a wonderful example of cinema sound art - enjoy it at your peril.

Extras
Even being a rental disc, this one comes with a just little more than your typical bare-bones offering. There is an alternate ending which provides the only other possible resolution to this story; this leaves us with what I call<font color="#EEEEEE"> The Sixth Sense ending </font>(for want of a better analogy) and I'm glad that we have the more emotionally charged version in the final film. The original trailer is also included.

They (Rental)
Overall
I feel that today's ultra-modern hip-cool in-your-face world has left the majority of movie-goers just wanting to being force-fed a ton of candy and are ignoring the healthy meat-and-three-veg meals that ultimately sustains our brain every day. The art of subtlety has been lost by most of the top-earning filmmakers, so it takes a rare breed of them to go against the grain and take the risk to generate something with a little more daring.<font color="#EEEEEE"> The open-ended resolution is mercilessly ambiguous too. </font>I'm not saying that this movie is a cinematic masterpiece, but it certainly is a masterful creation of the genre.

Hopefully when the retail edition of this DVD hits stores it will come with a heap more extras to justify the full asking price, but for now I would heartily recommend They for a spooky night's rental at least. Even then, this is probably the kind of film that you don't want to know too much about lest the magic be spoilt for the welcome alternative viewing experience that is delivered for the viewer. Unfortunately for some people though, they will still be guided by an unseen hand that will pick up yet another one of those plotless splatter platters in the shop and it's for them that I feel a slight twinge of regret for.


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