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Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
For anyone unfamiliar with the very real sleep disorder, Night Terrors,
it can be defined as nightmares that occur in deep, non-REM sleep,
in which the sufferer is overcome with extreme feelings of fear. During
a night terror, which may last anywhere from five to twenty minutes,
the person is still asleep, although the sleeper's eyes may be open.
My reason for offering up an explanation for Night Terrors is twofold:
(1) I have personally experienced them in the past, and (2) "They,"
directed by Robert Harmon, is an unsettling horror film that does
an applause-worthy job of showing just how truly terrifying Night
Terrors are to experience. Harmon and screenwriter Brendan William
Hood could definitely use a crash course in how to develop strong
characters and stories, but from a visceral standpoint the film powerfully
burrows its way underneath your skin.
Julia Lund (Laura Regan) is a graduate student working against a deadline
to complete her Psychology thesis. Her stress level raises significantly
when she witnesses longtime friend Billy (Jon Abrahams) commit suicide
after he erratically warns her that the night terrors they suffered
from as children have come back to get them for good. Julia is understandably
skeptical at first, but when she and two acquaintances, Sam (Ethan
Embry) and Terry (Dagmara Dominczyk), start re-experiencing the violent
and horrifying night terrors that plagued them years ago, and seem
to be linked by a similar wound on their bodies, their fear for their lives grows.
If a horror movie's primary goal is to frighten and disturb, then
"They" works spectacularly well. Director Robert Harmon deftly understands
that the scariest things are often those that are mostly unseen, lurking
just out of frame or in the moodily lit shadows. The monstrous images
he creates, with the aid of some surprisingly plausible special effects
and René Ohashi's atmospheric cinematography, are some of the eeriest
to find their way to the screen this year. A climactic sequence set
on a deserted subway is a near-masterpiece of genuine terror that
may also make you jump out of your seat (it did me).
Where "They" loses some of its momentum is in the exposition scenes.
Save for protagonist Julia, played with an undeniable freshness by
Laura Regan (2001's "Someone Like You"), the rest of the characters
are sorely one-dimensional, and the relationships that form between
them are slight, at best. As fellow night terror victims, Ethan Embry
(2002's "Sweet Home Alabama") and Dagmara Dominczyk (2002's "The Count
of Monte Cristo") are quite good--too good to be stuck in such unrewarding
roles. Marc Blucas (2002's "We Were Soldiers") rounds out the main
cast, steadfastly playing Julia's devoted boyfriend, Paul, who has
little more to do than stand around and try to comfort the unhinged Julia.
The staple horror movie formula of having a character going off alone
and being terrorized in dark, lonely places in between every scene
of dialogue is also too often relied upon, creating a predictable
repetitiveness. What lessens the blow, however, are some actual good
scares. "They" could have been better on a number of levels, but it
is, nonetheless, a shiver-inducing, nerve-rattling ride, with a shockingly
grim final scene that may offer up as valid a reason as any for keeping
the lights on at bedtime.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman