‘They’ can’t match pedigree of horror

Wes Craven may be “presenting” and Dimension Films may be distributing “They,” but this tepid, mechanical stab at terror falls below the standard set by the veteran horrormeister and the distribution company that has become synonymous with smart, amusing fright fests like “Scream.” For that matter, “They” can’t compare with director Robert Harmon’s ultra-grisly but genuinely scary “The Hitcher” of 16 years ago, which cast Rutger Hauer as the hitchhiker from hell.

Writer Brendan William Hood seems to have confused ambiguity, which can be unsettling, with the merely vague. Spunky Laura Regan, in spite of the material, delivers a focused portrayal as Julia, a Manhattan grad student. Julia is preparing to defend her master’s thesis in psychology when a long-troubled childhood friend, Billy (Jon Abrahams), pops up in a desperate state of mind. Billy believes that he and Julia and others who have a history of childhood nightmares and terrors were being targeted then to be taken over later in life by aliens.

Naturally, our master’s candidate tries to resist this notion but becomes convinced she is in great danger. None of these developments evolve with force or conviction, and “They” never generates any real fear until its last minutes, by which time it is too late to redeem the dull events that preceded them.

-- Kevin Thomas


“They.” MPAA rating: PG-13, for terror/violence, sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In general release.