Written by: Adrienne Clark
Directed by: Perry Blackshear
Cast: Macleod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying Drake
It’s always a little awkward to run into a friend from your past. One second you’re headed home, thinking your mid-week thoughts, the next you’re looking into a face you haven’t seen in years. You smile, ask them how they’re doing, and that’s usually how it ends. But what if it became clear that this friend had been looking for you? In fact, they had been wandering around your neighborhood waiting for you to come home. It might not creep you out, but it certainly wouldn’t seem normal.
This is where Perry Blackshear’s They Look Like People begins. Christian (played with equal parts charm and sleaze by Evan Dumouchel) is a weight-lifting, tie-wearing guy who listens to motivational audio tracks while taking the train. He’s not expecting a childhood friend to show up, but when he does, he’s gracious. He invites his old friend into his apartment, and even offers to let him crash while he’s in town.
The two fall into an easy routine. Christian goes to work, flirts with his boss, and hopes for a promotion. Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Wyatt (in a subtle performance by MacLeod Andrews) is spending a lot of time in the basement taping knives in secret spots and covering the windows.
Before long we learn that Wyatt believes that he is receiving phone calls from a benevolent creature (person? alien? demon?) warning him of an impending war. The invaders are able to disguise themselves to look like normal people. Their mission is to infect humanity; Wyatt’s mission is to stop them. He didn’t casually stop by to visit Christian. He just had nowhere else to go before the war began.
The 2015 film season was filled with preppers, bunkers, and protection from outside forces. Thematically this film reminded me of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both have main characters with radical apocalyptic beliefs and a strong survival instinct. But the comparisons stop there as Blackshear’s film focuses on a more every-day madness.
What I liked most about this movie was its concept. Monsters don’t scare me; people scare me, and this film is all about the horror of being human. Humans are fragile both in body and in mind. It takes very little for our minds to run off the rails, and thanks to the imperfections of evolution, we’re not prone to second-guessing our beliefs.
At its core this film is about the unknowable other. We think we all see the same world, but what happens when that’s not true? How do you reason with an unreasonable belief? This is a real kind of horror. Perhaps it feels less extreme than chainsaws and ghosts, but it is no less terrifying to those that are living it. Whether it’s your belief or a loved one’s, the pain, terror, and destruction it causes are all too real.
These concepts are made all the easier to reflect upon thanks to the competent acting and beautiful cinematography (also done by Blackshear). Thanks to their strong work I could sit back and enjoy the film without interruptions from hokey settings or unrealistic character choices. A certain level of professionalism was on display in every aspect of this film. This is not always the case with smaller horror movies. I was pleasantly surprised to find such luxuries as trained actors and real sound equipment had been used.
That’s not to say they were rolling in money. It was clear from early on that this project was operating on a modest budget. But this lack of cash never detracts from the work. In fact, it streamlines and simplifies the story, which keeps us focused on the characters. This points to Blackshear’s skills as both a director and cinematographer.
If there is a negative, it comes with the pacing. At an hour and twenty minutes, this film isn’t excessively long, yet there were moments when it felt bloated. Several scenes seemed to be in the service of progressing character relationships, but really only retread the same information that the viewer already knows. Also included are at least a couple instances of obvious improvisation. Although the actors are capable of staying in the moment, the information we glean from the scenes could have just as easily been given in a line.
They Look Like People is a thought-provoking journey into a horrifying world of paranoia. Between the unique ending and Blackshear’s clear vision, this is an easy movie to recommend.