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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
    English - Hearing Impaired
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Dolby Digital trailer
  • Alternate ending - 3min 41sec
They (Rental)
Focus Features/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 86 mins . M15+ . PAL


Is there anything that hasn’t already been done in the horror genre? If so, there aren’t all that many filmmakers working today with the nous to figure it out. A staple of cinema since the beginning of time (well, okay, the beginning of cinema), horror underwent a renaissance in a big way during the '80s, and in a smaller way in the '90s (spearheaded by Wes Craven’s Scream). But much modern horror is tired and over-familiar, heavily dependent on violence, sex and gore and thin on plot and intelligence. They, which carries Wes Craven’s name on the box despite the fact that he had absolutely nothing to do with the actual movie, has a go at changing the rules of the commercial horror game. And it nearly succeeds. Nearly.

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"They're made of... Vegemite??"

Julia Lund (Laura Regan) is a psychology student who’s enjoying a nice productive life with her paramedic boyfriend when, out of the blue, she gets a phone call from her childhood friend Billy. When she goes to see him, Billy’s not in a good way, spouting babble about things coming to get him just like they did when he had night terrors as a child - things that make the lights go out and babies cry before they do what spooky things do best by coming to getcha. “Oh crap”, thinks Julia. “Billy’s lost the plot.” She may not be far wrong; Billy, having invited her over for a chat, proceeds to commit suicide at her. Understandably a little bit spooked by this, Julia is soon losing the plot herself as she, too, begins to see dark creatures covered in sticky black goo lurking in the shadows of her apartment. Soon she meets others in the same predicament. But just what are they? What do they want? And have they gotten the idea for the lights-out trick from the aliens in Close Encounters? All will hopefully be revealed. Spookily.

There are a lot of good ideas here, though most of them are technical; director Robert Harmon (best known for cult fave The Hitcher) creates a marvellously creepy atmosphere throughout, and rarely plunges into mainstream horror cliche despite the script’s best efforts at doing so. Indeed, what he’s created here plays more like a particularly moody Twilight Zone episode than a horror flick. But just so you remember that’s exactly what it is, our heroine makes sure to scream at every opportunity. Well, okay, maybe “scream” is too kind. It’s more like the squeal of a so-so soprano being stretched on a torture rack right in the middle of Le Nozze di Figaro, and after about half an hour of it the majority of viewers will be cheering for “them” in the hope of some peace and quiet.

High-frequency torture aside, though, there is plenty to like here; the relentlessly dark tone supported by excellent photography and a suitably foreboding music score, the focus on character rather than carnage, the effective subway sequence, the uncompromising ending and the director’s pleasing refusal to slam a pap-metal rock song down our ears as soon as the end credits start rolling. But the script constantly lets itself down with silly dialogue, half-baked introductions to supposedly major characters and a healthy dose of predictability. While credited to Brendan William Hood, the script was drastically rewritten by uncredited others, and bears little resemblance to his original (available to read online via a link on this page). That doesn’t automatically make They an evil movie, but it does illustrate just how much interference can be inflicted upon a film script from final draft to finished product. Hood’s original is a great read in itself, and suffers from few of the problems that plague the shooting script.

But we’re talking about the finished movie, of course, and as it stands, They has been made with enough intelligence and style to be worth the effort. A restrained, almost disarmingly ethereal spooky quickie, it’s one for those who are tired of the two-thousand-litres-of-fake-blood-and-a-bad-plastic-monster-with-pointy-teeth brigade. Just be sure to hang your disbelief at the door.


This rental-only version of They was specifically mastered for the purpose, the word “RENTAL” prominently appearing on the disc’s inner hub. But Roadshow haven’t compromised on the transfer, which arrives from the US looking almost pristine and suitably moody, exceptionally well-judged in terms of contrast and colour for the occasion. There’s little to complain about, and what little there is won’t be seen by most people; there’s a tendency for backgrounds to be slightly indistinct, probably a result of the compressor seeing a little too much grain in non-key sections of the image. There are also a few visible specks and marks on the source film, and shadow detail is often minimal (the latter appears to be intentional, though). Colour-timed noticeably towards the green end of the spectrum, it’s not all perfect but it suits the movie extremely well. The theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (from Super 35 negatives) is reproduced here, 16:9 enhanced as you’d expect. Overall a very successful transfer, particularly considering this is a single-layered disc.

The audio is a real treat. This is a stunning 5.1 sound mix by the team at Sharpe Sound, one which draws the viewer right into the movie’s world and makes sure you know you’re there in the thick of it. Taking advantage of the fact that our mysterious black-goo creatures are often behind the camera, the mix places their scrabbling, sticky sound all around the surround stage and let’s them wander freely. Throughout, the mix is involvingly active, from menacing sub-bass to nerve-shattering squeals, err, screams. Dialogue is always clear and spot-on in level. A matrixed Dolby Surround mix is also provided which is excellent in itself, but if you’ve got a 5.1 system you’re in for a fun experience.

Extras-wise, there’s actually a couple of things here - surprising for a rental. Providing a visible clue as to just how far the producers were prepared to vary the story to suit a market, an alternate ending is supplied. Though it’s interesting in one aspect, it feels more like a lame cop-out compared to the ending used in the final cut. Over three and a half minutes long, it comes with Dolby Surround audio and is 16:9 enhanced at the movie’s aspect ratio with decent picture quality. There’s no sign, by the way, of the ending that was used for the UK release, which was reportedly different again (the version of the film on this disc is the US/Canada PG-13 release). The theatrical trailer also offers some glimpses of unused scenes; it’s at 1.85:1, also 16:9 enhanced with good picture quality and matrixed surround sound. All surround audio on this disc, by the way, has the Dolby flag correctly set for decoders that support it.

While the film does appear to have been released on DVD in the US (by Buena Vista) there doesn’t appear to be much, if anything, in the way of extras on that version. Hopefully, though, the eventual region 4 retail version will offer even more insight into the extensive reworking the film went through between concept and release.

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