Echoes of several recent J-horror pics (and their Americanized remakes) reverberate throughout “They Wait,” an efficiently creepy Canadian-produced thriller that should perform nicely in global homevid and tube markets. Rising prominence of top-billed, well-cast Jaime King (“Sin City”) should help attract viewers in all venues.
After living in Shanghai for three years, Chinese-Canadian businessman Jason (Terry Chen)and Sarah (King), his occidental ex-journalist wife, return to Vancouver with their young son Sammy (Regan Oey) for the funeral of Jason’s aged uncle, a much-respected community leader.
Unfortunately, the family returns just in time for what some describe as “ghost month” — and others, perhaps more accurately, refer to as “hungry ghost month” — a time when restless spirits walk the earth to take care of unfinished business.
Even more unfortunately, members of Jason’s family — especially his skittish Aunt May (former Hong Kong martial-arts star Cheng Pei-Pei) — literally have skeletons in the closet. And, not surprisingly, a great deal of unfinished business with some very unhappy spirits.
As is par for the course in pics like this, Sammy is blessed (or cursed) with the power to see dead people. So is his mom, though it takes her a rather long time to realize that what she is seeing isn’t a “waking nightmare,” and that a helpful neighborhood apothecary (Henry O) should be trusted when he warns about angry ghosts that evolve into demons when “the realms of the living and the dead intersect.”
Director Ernie Barbarash makes judicious use of CGI trickery — in one key scene, he cleverly shocks his audience into laughing — but at heart, he’s an old-school traditionalist when it comes to scary stuff. The violence is mostly non-graphic, even during climactic scenes, and pic likely will need scant trimming for broadcast TV.
With help from cinematographer Greg Middleton and composer Hal Beckett, helmer generates an impressive amount of suspense through the power of suggestion and evasive editing. (In the world according to “They Wait,” even a teddy bear can appear menacing.)
From time to time, Barbarash simply relies on the cinematic equivalent of sneaking up behind aud and shouting “Boo!” — unabashedly shameless but, more often that not, undeniably effective.