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They Wait (2007)
23rd Feb 09
During 'hungry ghost month', a young boy encounters hungry ghosts at a family funeral.
In Shanghai, Jason (Terry Chen) and his American wife Sarah (Jaime King) receive news one night that Jason’s Uncle Raymond has passed away, and subsequently travel to Sarah’s native Vancouver soil for the funeral, along with their young ghost-obsessed son, Sam (Regan Oey). If it weren’t for young Sam, and the fact that this is “the month of the hungry ghost”, their trip back to Vancouver’s Chinatown would no doubt have gone smoothly. Sam is, as the elderly chemist tells his mother, a “sensitive soul”, which means he is able to see ghosts and demons, whereas normal people simply feel the fear. His mother, to a lesser extent, also has this gift/curse.
Turns out Uncle Raymond was known as the ‘bone collector’, part of China Town’s highly superstitious Benevolent Society, who exhumed bones of recently deceased Chinese folk, boxed them up, and shipped them back to the homeland to lie by their ancestors where their souls could rest in piece. At least, that what everyone thought was in those boxes. It seems good old Uncle Raymond wasn’t such a good old boy after all, but a deceitful slave driver who not only kept all the bones in his warehouse, but smuggled – get this – bear bile (used in Chinese medicine apparently, don’t ask me!) back to Shanghai.
When the inquisitive young Sam starts exploring in Uncle Raymond’s old factory, he encounters the ghost of a Chinese girl who worked there half a century ago. These experiences send Sam into a somnambulic state, which is when he starts creeping us out by saying stuff like, “There is a lot of work to be done”, eventually falling into a coma. Have the spirits taken him? It would certainly appear so, and his mum has only until the following morning (when Ghost Month ends) to rescue his soul.
They Wait is the movie equivalent of a (hungry) ghost train, with spooky scares around every corner. Once you get halfway through the cavernous ride, you’re more prepared for everything being thrown at you. So, the filmmakers’ real trick here is to successfully keep you throwing that popcorn all over the woman sat in front so that there are still bits stuck to her when she leaves the theatre. What do you expect from a movie with a title like They Wait, anyway?
While Cube Zero director Ernie Barbarash competently conjures some moments of intrigue and suspense, one feels that he’s idly given in to the aesthetic trappings which characterise this genre. Spooky Chinese lady ghosts with their long dark hair don’t quite have the same impact as they did ten years ago, so now we’ve got one with facial disfigurements, upping the ante a little, but unfortunately not enough. The tragic story is intriguing but not entirely fresh, just very…ordinary. It is scarcely shocking or surprising (at least not in a way that stays with you after you land back in your seat), instead relying on quite hackneyed, cheap CGI tricks, variations on which you’ve seen before with movies like Dark Water or The Grudge.
Credit must go to little Regan Oey as Sam – the kid is genuinely cute and loveable, a real natural. His scenes are generally the most worthwhile moments of the entire movie, but the same can’t be said for Jaime King, who turns in an almost laughably bad interpretation of his ‘hysterical mum’, going waaaaay OTT when her kid is admitted to hospital. Canadian Chinese character actor Henry O does help to even things out with his memorable ‘wise old man’ role as the local pharmacist, who happens to know a lot about ghost mythology, eventually helping Sarah to retrieve her son’s soul from the undead legions.
Uwe Boll’s executive producer credit will hardly get everyone anticipating the next giant advance for the modern horror movie, so the chances of getting your hopes up about this one are fairly minimal. And perhaps this is the best way to approach They Wait; don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. And, like a McDonald’s lunch, it might fill you up right away but in an hour you’ll probably be hungry again.