[Screen It]

(2002) (Laura Regan, Marc Blucas) (PG-13)

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Horror: Various young adults must deal with their childhood "night terrors" that have returned and now plague their waking hours.
Julia Lund (LAURA REGAN) is a young woman studying to get her masters in psychology. She has a caring boyfriend in Paul (MARC BLUCAS) and seems to have a good head on her shoulders. Her world is turned upside down, however, when a childhood friend, Billy (JON ABRAHAMS), desperately needs to meet her.

He talks about the "night terrors" that both experienced when they were kids and that they're back for him. He says that crying babies and flickering lights are sure signs that "they" are nearby and that she should be careful. Before she can find out anything more, he kills himself in front of her.

At his funeral, she meets his former college friends Sam (ETHAN EMBRY) and Terry (DAGMARA DOMINCZYK) who inform Julia that they also experienced night terrors as kids and are doing so again. After a bizarre and frightening incident on the road at night, Julia is scared by what's occurring, but Paul thinks it's all in her head.

Accordingly, Julia goes back to see child psychologist Dr. Booth (JAY BRAZEAU) who initially treated her for her night terrors some twenty years ago. He thinks her visions and encounters are just manifestation of the tremendous stress she's been under. She wants to believe him, but the additional creepy encounters that she, Sam and Terry have eventually lead her to believe that "they" are after them. From that point on, the three try to deal with the creepy and increasingly dangerous supernatural occurrences.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Back in the 1980s, horror master Stephen King wrote "It," the tale of a group of former childhood friends who are reunited to battle the mysterious source of nightmares and more that they believed they had vanquished long ago. It was a terrific, if long piece of spooky storytelling that unfortunately 1) was made into a mediocre TV movie and 2) backed itself into a corner where its ending - that explained and revealed the source of what was responsible - turned out to be a disappointment.

Liberally borrowing from that work as well as parts of "Poltergeist," "Aliens" and other films, director Robert Harmon ("Nowhere to Run," "Eyes of an Angel) - who works from a script by Brendan William Hood (making his debut) - hopes to scare the pants off viewers with his latest effort, "Wes Craven Presents: They."

Some might be thinking that the combination of the filmmaker responsible for "The Hitcher" and the creative force behind the likes of the "Scream" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies sounds like a good idea. It might be, but Craven's presence here comes in marketing name only as he had nothing else to do with the film (beyond cashing in whatever payment his name alone mustered).

Like King's novel, Hood's screenplay focuses on a small group of people who are brought together by their common "night terror" incidents that they experienced as kids and now again as adults. Unlike it, however, the connective force behind why this is occurring to these particular people is never really explained. There's some mumbo jumbo about what appear to be tracking devices in them that suddenly fester into small wounds as they're about to be recaptured.

You may be wondering if this is some sort of Alien Wild Kingdom show where humanologists from another world have returned to examine and check on the progress of the "cubs" they tagged long ago (maybe that explains today's body piercing). That and any number of other wild explanations are certainly possible, as the filmmakers have apparently left that up to the discretion of the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Since "they" keep scaring the people out of their skivvies, I kept thinking of "Monsters, Inc." and wondering if Sully and the others were back to their old tricks and scare tactics to capture screams and fuel their city.

Alas, this film isn't remotely as clever or imaginative as that one. Nor does it really delve into the real life phenomenon of true night terrors. Instead, it uses all of that simply as a setup and jumping off point for placing its incredibly dense characters into spooky or creepy settings and hoping to scare viewers as much as it does them.

To be honest, the film does have some decently staged and executed scares and jump scenes. Yet, without a compelling and engaging script or characters we like or worry about, such frightening material doesn't get under one's skin or burrow into one's psyche like it should.

After a creepy opening featuring a boy, his bed, the closet and nighttime - which all viewers can relate to through personal experience or at least having seen it done better in "Poltergeist" - the film offers just one standard haunted house style sequence after another. That is, with some mostly veiled creatures/monsters that look like they migrated over from the "Alien" sets now that that franchise seems to be in mothballs.

While the filmmakers' decision to forgo explaining the real cause of what's occurring circumvents an "It" type conclusion, it's likely to irritate viewers who've invested 90 some minutes of their lives in this effort. After all, the final scene isn't as creepy, shocking or ironic as it wants to be.

To make matters worse, the protagonist - an incredibly bland Laura Regan ("Someone Like You," "Unbreakable") - isn't very proactive in trying to figure out what's going on. Nor does she attempt to discern why she and the handful of others are the only ones affected in the past and present or what the creatures/monsters ultimately want with them. In addition, the filmmakers don't play off the "Is it real or just another hallucination?" element enough to make that as much "fun" as it could have been.

Supporting performances from the likes of Ethan Embry ("Disturbing Behavior," "Can't Hardly Wait") and Dagmara Dominczyk ("The Count of Monte Cristo," "Rock Star") as other sufferers, Marc Blucas ("Sunshine State," "Summer Catch") as the boyfriend who surprisingly doesn't head for the hills and Jay Brazeau ("Insomnia," "Head Over Heels") as the protagonist's psychologist simply can't do much with their weakly written and less than memorable roles.

Although it contains a handful of decent scares, the film is most notable for its title that's likely to have grammar teachers and truth in advertising advocates alike coming out of the woodwork to protest. "Wes Craven Presents: They" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed November 27, 2002 / Posted November 27, 2002

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