One of two independent Canadian horror films being reviewed this Halloween season.
Cast and Crew Information
Jaime King as Sarah
Terry Chen as Jason
Pei-Pei Cheng as Aunt Mei
Henry O as the pharmacist
Regan Oey as Sam
Michael Biehn as Blake O’Connell
Vicky Huang as Shen
Suzanne Bastien as Nurse #1
Erika Conway as Nurse #2
Story by Trevor Markwart. Screenplay by Trevor Markwart and Carl Bessai and Doug Taylor.
Directed by Ernie Barbarash
It’s hungry ghost month, and unsatisfied ghosts whose bones are not buried with their ancestors get restless and hungry. If they don’t get appropriate offerings, they’ll feed off the souls of the living. The angry ones become demons.
The first trip to the pharmacy. There’s something very unexpected in that scene.
The lack of consistent internal logic. Most examples of this are in the fourth act, which I suspect was not in the first draft.
This isn’t particularly original. Heck, I’m not even sure the “kid with a gift to see the supernatural who needs protection from corrupted family and gets help from a knowledgable elderly man” trope was original when The Shining came out 30 years ago. I give it 2 out of 6.
The effects were generally good. Anything that may not be convincing was done very quickly. This is more about suspense than shock, so the effects mainly come down to people who appear and disappear, sometimes when a moving prop passes in front of them and the camera angle changes. I give it 5 out of 6.
The story is the weakest aspect. It really feels like it’s going to be a relatively short movie with a consistent set of rules. Then, moments before the anticipated climax happens and all is revealed, there is a sudden jump to a fourth act with a different set of rules and a complete shift for the character Jason. I strongly suspect (given also the use of “and” instead of ampersands in the writing credits, indicating two rewrites after Markwart’s original work) that the original script had human level retribution for the evil humans involved, and that the fourth act delivering supernatural retribution instead was tacked on with the goal of “satisfying” the anticipated audience expectations. The problem is that this act breaks all established rules, leading at least this audience member less satisfied that I would have been with a more mundane conclusion for the evil humans. The ghosts now have new abilities, allegiances and goals, which then leads to the classic “why didn’t the ghosts do action X sooner and obtain their goals years before the movie even started?” line of questioning. I give it 2 out of 6.
The acting is uneven, but appears uneven from a directorial end. Every major member of the cast has strong scenes and weak scenes, often in conjunction, leading me to believe that the problem was from the directorial end moreso than the acting end. For example, there is a scene in which Sarah (King) calls two nurses into a hospital room in a panic. King’s emotions in this scene aren’t as convincing as in three other scenes where she feels exactly the same way. Similarly, the scene is edited overly long, putting the emphasis on her emotions. The problem is that the nurses, who deliver their lines more than adequately, have nothing to do between lines. Nurse #2 ends up just standing there, and Nurse #1 fiddles with the patient’s IV bag five or six times. This is a room full of medical equipment that can be checked and a patient that can be felt, but the director chose to keep Sarah on the well-equipped side of the bed and the nurses on the side of the bag which has nothing but a pair of IV bags. I understand the desire to use the bed as a physical obstacle to represent the emotional barrier (which is probably why the shot is distant enough to keep the bed in view every second of the conversation instead of doing a closeup of Sarah’s face,) but it ultimately leaves the nurses propless and actionless. The audience is jarred out of their suspended disbelief and reminded they are watching a movie. Now, compare this to any random primetime medical drama. When medical professionals are called into the room in a panic, the first thing they do is push the loved ones out of the way to gather on both sides of the head of the bed. The family members gravitate to the foot of the bed. This maintains the bed as the physical and metaphorical barrier, while simultaneously leaving the actors playing the nurses and/or doctors next to props they can fiddle with to look busy and appear to belong right where they are standing for as long as they stand there. The editing is also rapid, unlike it is in this film, in which the dramatic pauses between frantic screams last long enough and from a far enough viewing angle for the audience to tell that the characters are clearly just standing there because the actors have been directed to. The acting receives a 3 out of 6, but don’t hold that against the cast.
The production is mixed. From a composition end, it’s okay. The musical score and foley/sound work is actually very good. It’s the direction and editing that are far too weak to overcome a fourth act that bears little in common with the first three acts. Unfortunately, direction and editing far outweigh any other aspect of production. I give it 3 out of 6.
The emotional response starts out mediocre, and falls to poor. This dead horse has been well beaten by now, but I have to mention it again here: the fourth act and lousy direction completely undermine what suspense had been created by the first half. If the humans responsible for the problems had been less obvious, this end could have worked, but it crumbles in that nonsensical fourth act. I give it 2 out of 6.
Overall, it’s not the worst movie in the world. If you want something with a distinct look and sound, it’s got that, but so does any Ang Lee film, and those have better writing and direction. It’s not abysmal, but it could have been much, much better. I give it 2 out of 6.
In total, They Wait receives 19 out of 42.