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1 review, 2 user ratings

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They Look Like People
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by Jay Seaver

"And best of all, that applies to the characters as well!"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It feels a bit like giving the game away to say that "They Look Like People" is seldom the movie it's expected to be from the descriptions written in festival programs, which talks about how Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) can see that most of the people around him are being taken over by aliens or demons or the like and is torn about recruiting his friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel) to the cause of stopping them. They don't hide that it's a "he might be crazy" movie, and if you don't want to hear more, just go watch it now - it's worth going in blind or well aware.

After all, "might" is pretty much superfluous in that description - and that's what makes it unusually fascinating. Filmmaker Perry Blackshear doesn't really try to play into the possibility that genre film fans might be so used to how these things play out - ambiguously-to-"he's right!", or with obliviousness leading to tragedy - that going a different direction might be a shock. From the very start, it's pretty clear where things stand, and Blackshear and MacLeod Andrews generally seem to see that their job is not to persuade the audience that the supernatural elements may be real, but to show how convincing his delusions are to Wyatt. The potential for tragedy is obvious, but there's a great deal of hope to the film, because Wyatt doesn't want to be that way, even if medication and treatment can feel like creating an illusion rather than dispelling it to him.

Andrews makes this work in large part by almost never overdoing the obvious signs of mental illness; most of the time,Wyatt could be withdrawn for any number of reasons. When alone, there's little joy in his preparations for the upcoming apocalypse, just an unusual combination of resignation and calm, like this might be tense work, but accepting it makes things smoother. Andrews varies his chemistry with the rest of the cast well, too - most of the time, there's friendliness and comfort, but the bad days are obvious.

For as good as Andrews is, a large part of the success of the film may be down to how, while it's Wyatt's delusions that drive the story, it often feels much more like a small ensemble piece. The audience gets inserted into the film's world via Evan Dumouchel's Christian, who has his own thing going on that could spin off into a movie itself. Christian doesn't fit into his world in a more benign way - he lacks the true narcissism for the ambitious persona he is trying to calculate - and Dumouchel finds the right sort of earnestness that can seem a bit silly at times to make him the film's glue, Margaret Ying Drake is a lot of fun as his potential girlfriend (also his boss, promoted over him); she's got a funny sort of voice and uses it to make Mara seem a bit goofy but also deliver a sharp reminder that she's fairly capable. They are an entertaining group as opposed to just "normal" people, and that both means that we're able to take occasional breaks from building Wyatt's world and that he's got a good place to come back to, if it goes that way.

This is the sort of independent movie that verges on almost being hobbyist work; the credits have a lot of the same names repeated, none more than writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor/etc. Perry Blackshear; "production designer" probably means they shot in his apartment full of his stuff in this case. They know what they're doing, though, keeping the pacing tight despite a relaxed pace that allows time for seeming mundanities. There's never so much polish that the film loses that homemade look, but Blackshear's composition and focus on what's important keeps it from feeling amateurish. Some pretty terrific sound work from Jordan King helps a lot; he and Blackshear always seem to now whether a rumble or silence will make things more unnerving.

As I write this, I worry a bit that my being up-front about the type of film "They Look Like People" is might be too much to know going in, but to a certain extent, you can't talk about what makes it an excellent film without giving a bit away. It's not a film that is interesting for the details of its mythology or how it reflects something else, but for how a small cast and crew uses horror-movie material in an unusually interesting way.

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originally posted: 09/16/15 08:50:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Slamdance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/14/18 Langano Slow build to nothing. 2 stars
7/02/16 brian Mostly well acted; drags badly in places; buddy relationship too awkward, but good payoff. 3 stars
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