30th Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘They Look Like People’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying, Mick Casale, Elena Greenlee | Written and Directed by Perry Blackshear

they-look-like-people-cast

The opening scene of They Look Like People sets the tone for the rest of the film to follow: it’s minimalist, thought-provoking and creepy as hell. We see nothing more than a man lying in bed staring into the face of his sleeping partner, but through clever lighting, her face is shrouded in blackness. Or is it a lighting trick…? The camera lingers and unease builds.

We are introduced to two men, the aforementioned Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) and Christian (Evan Dumouchel), an old friend. They bump into each other at random and as it becomes apparent that Wyatt is seemingly in a bad patch and ‘between homes’, he ends up crashing at Christian’s flat. Christian, though outwardly more together, is a similarly damaged bag of neuroses, exercising compulsively and listening to motivational audiobooks. He’s also trying to start a relationship with his new boss Mara (Margaret Ying Drake) in the wake of his broken engagement. In the background of all this, Wyatt is receiving strange phone calls informing him that alien/demon/monsters are infecting everyone around him and that a war is coming between them and humanity. So naturally, he starts stockpiling axes, nail guns and sulphuric acid from the tool shop. We occasionally catch glimpses of the effectively nightmarish beings that are haunting Wyatt, which stare at him with twisted grins and blank eyes. Between the hipster-ish romantic to and fro and the threat of an invasion in plain sight, it comes across as a kind of mumblecore They Live. Which isn’t a bad thing at all.

The film is an interesting inclusion on this year’s FrightFest line up as it’s less of an out-and-out horror film and much closer to an intense psychological character study. That said, there are several moments of complete dread that should satisfy those looking for some conventional scares, not least in its powerfully tense climactic sequence. By and large though, we’re left trying to work whether what’s going on is in Wyatt’s head, who he can trust and exactly how he’s got to this place in his life. Not all of those questions will be answered but I for one was hugely satisfied by the ending.

The film is written, directed, edited, produced, cinematography-ed and production designed by Perry Blackshear (I suspect he probably made everyone sandwiches and gave them all lifts too), which is mightily impressive and leaves him with an awful lot of credit for a feature debut. It’s remarkable quite how exacting the film is; I could be wrong, but I suspect that what Blackshear had in his head for the film is pretty damn close to what appears on screen. They Look Like People has a clarity of focus that tells of real overarching vision that has been executed really well, right down to the pervading feeling of isolation to the great, naturalistic performances of all three main cast members. The relationship between the two male leads, which really is the crux on which the whole film depends, is particularly well played.

If I were to criticise, I think the film possibly could have had a couple more ‘scary bits’, and I worry that it might not play quite as well at FrightFest than it would do at Genre-Unspecific Fest because of this. And this must be the first time I’ve ever done this, but at just less than an hour and twenty minutes, I wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time in its company. It’s a bit of a curio, but well worth seeking out if you’re heading to the festival and in whatever medium it finds a home in thereafter.

**** 4/5

They Look Like People has its European Premiere at London’s Film4 Frightfest on Sunday 30th August at 9.00pm in Discovery Screen 1.

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