You've got to love movies where Wes Craven's name is listed along with the title, as if that somehow makes the film better. Wes Craven isn't actually the director (that honor belonging to Robert Harmon and Rick Bota), so his connection to the film is tenuous at best. Besides, these days, Craven's name on horror movies isn't necessarily a plus.
They's plot is simple: boogeymen are real (maybe) and they mark human children for kidnapping and eating later.
Or something like that. We follow the life of willowy Julia Lund (Laura Regan), a graduate student preparing to defend her thesis on psychology. With her long neck and bowl cut, Lund has a compelling screen presence; she's especially good at welling up with tears at a whim.
Two men orbit our heroine, her EMT boyfriend Paul Loomis (Marc Blucas) and her childhood male friend Billy Parks (Jon Abrahams). The boyfriend is something of an anomaly; he's a medical professional that lives with his two shlub roommates. Understandably, Julia doesn't want to sleep over…although she does anyway, despite the fact one of the idiot roommates walks in on her naked. More on the sleeping arrangements later.
Billy is a wreck. He has a history of drug use and paranoia, and when rolling blackouts threaten to roll across the city (which I think is New York, but was never sure), he totally flips out. Billy is convinced that the things that go bump in the night are out to get him, and eventually, poor Julia. Why they're out to get Billy NOW, as opposed to say, when they originally tagged him in the beginning of the movie as a child, we have no idea. Billy prattles on about how both he and Julie suffered from "night terrors" as children and that the things causing the night terrors have returned to collect them. Speaking of which, night terrors are integral to the plot but never adequately explained. The frantic conversation ends with Billy committing suicide in front of Julia by shooting himself in the head.
Understandably distraught, Julia visits Billy's funeral, where she meets two other victims. One of them, Sam Burnside (Ethan Embry), is an artist who chain-smokes and paints really crappy pictures. The other roommate, Terry Alba (played by sultry Dagmara Dominczyk), doesn't seem to do anything but speak with a strange accent and walk around in a swimsuit. It's obvious from the start that both of these folks are doomed.
All of the characters seem to have difficulty finding someone to share their bed with, despite even Julia having a steady boyfriend. When her boyfriend does sleep over, he sleeps in a separate room for reasons that are never explained. And yet, Julia has no problem sleeping in her boyfriend's bed (you know, the one with the two loud roommates who walk in on her naked). Sorry, if I was freaked that things might eat me at night, I'd find a bedmate, even if it was only a platonic bedmate. Sam and Terry seem like perfect candidates for just such an arrangement, but they of course split up…
They tries really hard to scare us without scaring us, relying on creatures half-seen. I couldn't help but feel cheated; I really wanted to see some cool monster effects. We never get that much. Instead, we get a lot of information: THEY cannot abide the light, THEY can cause electrical devices to go out, and THEY tag humans as children with long slivers of bone. It's almost like an alien abduction scenario, only THEY are interdimensional kidnappers.
They suffers from the same problem as Silent Hill; the heroine doesn't really have a realistic chance of fighting back against the bad guys. Instead, she's relegated to running, screaming, and then more running into really stupid places like subways. The rolling blackout threat never seems to come to pass; I had visions of the entire city being overrun as the lights went out. But no such luck, this is Julia's story and hers alone.
The ending is grim and particularly unsatisfying. The alternate ending on the DVD was much bolder and certainly excused the flimsy plot. But unfortunately, the directors balked (or maybe it was good old Wes) and we end up with a standard plot with standard monsters and standard victims.
For all its flaws, They is still a pretty good creepfest. It's just not a very satisfying movie, and after awhile the heroine's histrionics become irritating enough that you start rooting for the monsters to eat her.