“Scary as Hell!” says the box. “Scary as Helen Daniels!” says this viewer!
You could argue that movies have always dealt with the fantastical. From Méliès’ journey to our lunar neighbour, complete with a squat rocket landing in the eye of the man in the moon, through Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad, Gwangi and Argonauts and even up to the more recent Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies, there have always been flights into fantasy on the silver screen. But no bit of movie make-believe is as hopelessly out of kilter with real life than the idea that little children will happily wander off into long abandoned and very spooky looking basements on their own to happily converse with ghosts. Not the kind of ghosts, mind, that pretend to be children and thereby gain the friendship of these young adventurers – a warning that is forever linked with Ouija boards! – but horrible things with their eyeballs sewn shut, their skulls sliced apart and their arms blackened by burns. I’d sooner believe in orcs, kobolds and gelatinous cubes than in these six-year-old friends o’ of the dead.
So, it’s with a heavy heart (and even heavier eyelids) that I come to you with They Wait, in which little Sam (Oey) is haunted by typical night-time scares in the dark of the apartment block in which he lives with his parents Sarah (King) and Jason (Chen) in Shanghai. The death of Jason’s uncle brings them to Vancouver but their arrival coincides with the Chinese Ghost Month and while Sam has always enjoyed an active imagination, he now sees ghosts everywhere he looks, be it on the street, at home, in the aisles of a corner store or in the basement factory beneath his aunt’s apartment. Soon, though, Sarah also finds herself haunted by these evil spirits, moreso when Sam collapses at home and is brought into hospital. As Sarah tries to uncover the truth behind her uncle’s factory, Sam is held by an evil ghost but a mysterious pharmacist warns Sarah that she alone must act to save her son and face the demons of her family’s past.
They Wait – the title means nothing, even having watched the film twice – offers us the same kind of Eastern flim-flam that has been with us since Marco Polo first wondered what was beyond the horizon. What The Skeleton Key did for southern gothic and Leprechaun did for Irish myths and fables, They Wait does for Chinese legends, so much so that one can never be sure if they’re inventions of director Ernie Barbarash and writer Trevor Markwart or have some basis in culture. I suspect it’s as much of a nonsense as children so curious as to what lies within darkened corners of the world that they’ll hold hands with demons and go a-wandering but it
Seeing Uwe Boll on the titles may give many a viewer someone to blame for this mess but it’s Barbarash who should accept most of the blame. Like the various Dark Castle productions, notably Thir13en Ghosts and Return to the House on Haunted Hill only without the same sense of fun, the ghosts of They Wait are most often found skulking about in the shadows before turning to reveal their scarred faces to the camera. Barbarash performs this trick several times, be it the machete slice on Shen’s forehead, the wriggle up ghost Jason’s arm or the rubber gubbins that decorates half of one ghost’s face. Said ghost, other than his turn to camera, does nothing more threatening that eat an orange. Elsewhere, a plate of noodles turns into worms, a woman spits bones out of her mouth and a teddy bear tries to look a little bit menacing. The one effective moment in the film is a ghost leaping at young Sam but the world of They Wait is as frightening a place to be as Poundstretcher.
They Wait is a ghost story with the stabilisers still in place. It’s a perfectly suitable film for a sleepover for twelve-year-old girls or boys, whose parents will be happy that the one suggestion of nudity – Jaime King in a shower scene – reveals nothing more than a bare shoulder, while the scares are nothing to keep anyone awake at night. This viewer slept contentedly after watching it and so, I suspect, would all but the most nervous of folk.
Given how much of They Wait takes place in dark and dimly lit parts of Chinatown, it would be a shame if the film vanished into the gloom. The DVD isn’t that bad but it’s often only satisfactory. The interiors look drab, while what should have been the most interesting location, the abandoned factory, is too murky to make out most of the time. It does get better near the film’s end, particularly so in a flashback to when the factory was still in business, but that’s a very brief highlight. Otherwise, the obvious cheapness to the movie isn’t the fault of its move onto DVD, more that the terrible special and make-up effects would have looked much the same no matter what They Wait would have been viewed on, DVD, VHS or zoetrope.
There is a choice of DD2.0 and DD5.1 soundtracks but there isn’t a great deal to separate them. The use of rear speakers in the surround track is a little more explicit in the latter but both options are fairly solid. They’re also a little predictable as regards how they add to the scares but generally do a fine job of carrying the dialogue. There are no subtitles.
“I hope the story’s surprising!” Sorry Ernie Barbarash – who says that very thing – but a Christmas cracker offers up more of a surprise than your film. The Making Of They Wait (11m58s) is where Barbarash appeals to the viewer’s sense of fairness on behalf of his film but it’s not a particularly interesting feature. The cast do their very best to praise They Wait, highlighting what they believe are its many and varied good points but such claims are as outlandish as those who believe the Earth is hollow, that man did not land on the moon and that the Cube sequels, one of which Barbarash is responsible for, are a patch on the original. There is also a Trailer (1m15s).
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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