They Look Like People


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

They Look Like People
"A remarkable first film." | Photo: FrightFest

Christian (Evan Dumouchel) has the kind of day to day troubles that many of us will be used to. He recently split up with his girlfriend and his house now feels empty and strange. He likes a woman, Mara (Margaret Ying Drake), but he's not sure if she's equally interested in him. Things aren't going well at work. But then there's Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews). Wyatt has bigger problems. He's one of just a small number of people aware that the Earth has been targeted for invasion by creatures who are gradually taking over the bodies of people around him, just like they took over the woman he loved. When Christian bumps into him after several years apart and invites him to stay, he doesn't know that Wyatt will start building weapons in the basement, that he's planning for a war.

Is Wyatt mentally ill? Has he stumbled on some awful truth? Could both be true? As viewers, we don't know the answer to that any more than he does. He's pretty sure he's not schizophrenic because he read some stuff about it on the internet. Aside from his strange obsession he seems a very ordinary, likeable guy. By introducing him to us as Christian's friend rather than just having us bump into him as a stranger, writer/director Perry Blackshear invites us to see him as a trusted and therefore probably trustworthy person. The two have a history that goes right back to childhood. Alone in Christian's house, they play a game together where they pretend to be monsters. The warmth of their friendship saturates the film but is balanced by a sense of constant tension. Whatever the truth of Wyatt's beliefs, it's hard to imagine a happy ending for them.

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Blackshear's gentle, low key film explores the challenges of maintaining communication for two people with such different worldviews. Inevitably, Mara also gets caught up in what's going on, creating tension between her and Christian and adding to the sense of personal danger. She's no damsel in distress needing a male protector, however; in an early scene when they're messing about in a park, she demonstrates what she's learned in martial arts to Christian by casually throwing him over her shoulder. Whilst contributing to the development of character and character dynamics, this also reminds us that we can't tell by looking at someone what that person might be capable of, essentially putting us in the same position as Wyatt regardless of how willing we are to believe him.

Blackshear personally handled sound design in the film and this contributes significantly to the atmosphere. Wyatt is troubled by a buzzing noise which could mean that aliens are near or could be something else, but which at any rate makes it difficult to think clearly and frays his nerves. At other times a subtler approach enhances the sense of claustrophobia in the basement where Wyatt plans to fortify himself - and Christian and Mara, if the aliens haven't taken control of them - when violent attacks on cities begin.

It's rare to see films that explore friendships between men and issues around mental health with this level of sensitivity and sophistication. They Look Like People is a remarkable first film and it keeps us guessing right up to the end, with multiple possible sources of catastrophe. It's a film that explores danger without letting go of hope. The historical genre of films focused on paranoia and invasion has seen relatively few entries in recent years, but this is a worthy one.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2019
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A man staying with a friend he hasn't seen for years receives a call, in the wee small hours, telling him to prepare for war, leave the city and beware of infection. Should he protect his friend from the impending apocalypse, or from himself?

Director: Perry Blackshear

Writer: Perry Blackshear

Starring: MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying Drake, Elena Greenlee, Mick Casale

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

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