They Wait – Stitched Up Mouths And Gouged Out Eyes

First things first. There’s nothing that scary about a monster that waits. Monsters aren’t supposed to be patient. They’re supposed to be hungry, relentless beasts that won’t stop at anything until the skin of your face is being transposed into nutrients on the bottom of their belly. I mean, iconic supernatural nonce Freddie Kruger would have been rubbish if he’d said to his victims, “Okay, I’m going to kill you in your dreams. But no rush! I’ve got some magazines I can read while I’m waiting…”

Out February 9th for the first time on DVD, ‘They Wait’ is an enjoyable 2007 Canadian horror-thriller staring Jaime King (‘Pearl Harbor’, ‘Sin City’, ‘The Spirit’) as Sarah, a mother trying to save her son Sammy (endearingly unannoying Chinese-Canadian child actor Regan Oey) who’s threatened by spirits during the Chinese tradition of Ghost Month.

This, if you didn’t already know, is a bit like Asia’s equivalent of Mexico’s Day Of The Dead festival and takes place on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month. If we’re to believe what the film tells us, it’s the time of year when women with stitched up mouths and gouged out eyes start acting bloody mental.

After three years of living in Shanghai, Sarah, Sammy and dad Jason (‘Snakes On A Plane’’s Terry Chen) go home to North America for a family funeral. Then on their return something unexpected begins to trouble the once happy family (the aforementioned women with stitched up mouths and gouged out eyes, mainly).

Sammy tells Sarah he’s seeing phantoms and apparitions. Then he falls seriously ill. Predictably western medicine fails to do anything to make the boy better, so a semi-skeptical Sarah turns to a mysterious Chinese pharmacist who warns that her son is in the death grip of a living corpse. To save her child Sarah must work out what the spirits want. Oooh, I know! Is it a pony?

Directed by the relatively unknown Ernie Barbarash, with much loathed fantasy cinema troll Uwe Boll (‘Alone In The Dark’, ‘House Of The Dead’… which I kinda enjoyed actually) overseeing as executive producer (on May 7, 2008, the makers of Stride gum announced they would give each signer a coupon for a pack of gum if they obtained one million signatures demanding that Boll retire from filmmaking – the number currently stands at 320,000), I’m pleased to be able to say that, despite such odds, ‘They Wait’ does a whole bunch of things right…

If you’ve watched a lot of horror movies, you might have become jaded by the ‘rhythm’ of most Western creations – the templated, rigid scares that run throughout this facet of the genre, regardless of cast, script, whatever. Most of this is only slightly more developed than your little brother hiding behind the sofa, jumping out and going “boo”, and it’s been done to death by (predominantly) American filmmakers for fifty plus years. It’s why so many film fans having been tapping into the output from other parts of the world these last few years. Like China/Korea/Japan.

And while – despite the largely Chinese cast – you’d struggle to make the claim that this is a C/K/J-Horror flick in the same way, say, ‘The Ring’ series were, ‘They Wait’ is a great example of a Western production taking inspiration from an Asian film, rather than the repeated Hollywood homogenization of the best films (‘The Eye’, ‘One Missed Call’, ‘The Grudge’) from that part of the world.

For example, there’s an unexpected scene right off the bat in the Shanghai pharmacists that is thrillingly terrifying in exactly the way, say, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ isn’t. I tell you what, too. I didn’t see the bloody ending coming either… Crumbs! Or should that be… Bones!

Things I could have been doing during the eighty-nine minutes of ‘They Wait’: tidying my bedroom, making a cake, watching Bayern Munich in the lead of the 1999 Champions League final. Things I would have rather have been doing: nothing.