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They Wait
cast: Jaime King, Terry Chen, Michael Biehn, Regan Oey, and Pei-pei Cheng

director: Ernie Barbarash

89 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
It is 'hungry ghost month', a time when the spirits come closer to the living, a time for paying respects. Jason (Terry Chen) says it's superstitious nonsense; no prizes for guessing whether or not he is correct. Jason, his partner Sarah (Jaime King), and their six-year-old boy Sammy (Regan Oey) have come back to Vancouver from Shanghai for the funeral of Jason's uncle Raymond. Both Sammy and Sarah start to have nightmarish visions, often of a strange girl; eventually Sammy goes into a coma, baffling doctors. But the wise old Chinese pharmacist knows what's going on: the girl is a spirit who seeks vengeance, and Sarah must be the agent of that revenge. First, she will have to travel to the world of the dead, where she will discover a dark secret at the heart of Uncle Raymond's factory; and that his 'Benevolent Society' wasn't quite so benevolent after all...

In case any of that sounds interesting, I'm sorry to say that it's not, really. The movie starts off well, with three guys hunting in the forests of "the Pacific Northwest." One (who, we learn in a few minutes, is Uncle Raymond) becomes separated from the group. Claw marks appear in a tree, made by some invisible beast - and the tree bleeds in front of Raymond's eyes. A suitably tense atmosphere has been built throughout the scene - until a CGI demon jumps out at Raymond, which rather spoiled the effect for me.

Unfortunately, that final moment sets the tone for the rest of the film, as They Wait prefers the 'made you jump!' style of supernatural storytelling to any attempt at being genuinely unsettling. The movie relies far too much on set-piece scares (a few minutes have passed, time for another scary moment!) with heavy-handed musical cues, 'scares' which are not all that frightening on the whole (except in the same way that someone bursting a paper bag behind your back is frightening). And two of (what should be) the most dramatic moments are undercut by sudden bursts of comic absurdity which have no counterparts elsewhere in the movie, so I'm at a loss to explain why they are there.

The story itself comes across as purely a hook on which to hang these set-pieces. The whole thing feels too arbitrary - if the spirits can attack Raymond at the beginning, why do they need a task to be completed before they can go after his co-conspirators? Similarly, the manifestations of the supernatural seem to have been selected for no reason other than that they sounded good (a teddy bear with bloody stumps for arms! a plate of noodles transformed into wriggling worms!). The cumulative effect is to make They Wait an uninteresting experience on every level.

Yes, there are some good bits - most of that first scene; the point where a demon disguised as Jason plucks an orange from the air with a long tongue and swallows it whole; the sequence where Sarah goes into the factory's basement, and it turns into the workroom of 50 years ago - but these are few and far between. They Wait is not really an actively bad film, it's just passively not good - the performances are competent enough, but nothing special; the underlying familial themes are drowned out by the ghost story rather than complementing it; the supernatural elements are, in the end, just... there. You could do worse than watch They Wait - but that's hardly a reason to do so.

DVD bonus features: a making-of documentary, and trailer.

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