Tough to recommend as a viewing experience, but as an experiment in cinematic mood placement this one fires on all cylinders.
They Look Like People (Fantasia Review)
Even in this day and digital age of YouTube and GoPro, it’s still a small miracle to successfully actualize a fully fledged feature film. And it’s triple impressive when a single person takes on the bulk of the workload behind the camera. Shane Carruth is a perfect example of this trendy precedent. His achievement with Primer (2004), and the even more critically-acclaimed follow-up Upstream Color (2013), inspired a small army of young indie filmmakers to embrace a DIY approach and take the reigns on all the most crucial filmmaking elements—directing, writing, producing, shooting, and editing—all by themselves. Perry Blackshear is one such soldier. He’s done it all and more for his feature debut, tackling the sound design as well (an element almost as vital as directing in this particular case). The result is the mysteriously moody, and fantastically-titled, They Look Like People. But, when a finished film meanders with its story and characters as much as this one does, it becomes little more than an exercise in style.
The story follows Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), a shaggy drifter who just came out of a long relationship and randomly bumps into childhood friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel). He, too, is feeling the effects of a broken relationship, still holding on to his ex-girlfriend’s things in his tiny New York apartment. The two instantly rekindle their boys-will-be-boys dynamic, but it’s not long before Wyatt’s current state of mind is exposed as downright certifiable: he gets mysterious calls in the middle of the night, and voices speak to him of monsters who look just like people infecting human minds and preparing to wage war. Wyatt is convinced this must be true because it coincides with the supremely creepy flashbacks he has of his ex-girlfriend (presumably), and various other oddities he finds in Christian’s house, not least of which is a “rape-y” basement (as one girl in the film calls it) that becomes Wyatt’s workshop in preparing for battle.
As a project resting almost entirely on the shoulders of its writer-director, They Look Like People is an accomplished little psychological thriller that, more than anything else, shows a megaton of promise for Blackshear. There is a very keen sense of cinematic mood-setting and an intricately layered use of sound (the buzzing of flies, the creaking of floorboards, etc.) that form a tangible atmosphere enticing enough to raise the hairs on the back of most horror fans’ necks. And, major credit must go to the director for never over-indulging with the scares, keeping the really meaty stuff firmly lodged in the audience member’s imagination, and creating an emotionally stirring climax that could’ve devolved into something much tackier were it in another genre director’s hands.
Once we delve into the story and the characters, however, a number of issues arise. We never find out much about either Wyatt or Christian to truly feel their suffering, the editing feels purposefully rushed, which at times works to great comedic effect (“you got a second?” cut to: back-shaving), but mostly creates a disingenuously choppy storyline, and the pacing stretches one’s attention spans to its nadir. There’s a moment in a whisper room that’s a great example of how a scene can detach from a film’s plot and float in the film’s atmosphere, signifying nothing and serving only to show an audience what a whisper room is. With that in mind, They Look Like People is tough to recommend as a viewing experience, but as an experiment in cinematic mood placement it fires on all cylinders. Most importantly, it should serve to propel its clearly talented writer-director-producer-DP-editor-sound designer onto much bigger and better things.