They Look Like People
26 February 2016 US VOD
MacLeod Andrews as Wyatt
Evan Dumouchel as Christian
Margaret Ying Drake as Mara
If you had the pleasure of seeing the stellar indie hit from 2012 – Resolution – you’ll easily recognize the similarities to the strongest aspects of They Look Like People – which was an official selection for the 2015 Screamfest Film Festival.
Like Resolution, at the heart of They Look Like People is an endearing bro-mance between two long-time friends – one on the edge of losing themselves and the other – more settled and stable – determined to be there for their struggling buddy.
Wyatt (MaCleod Andrews – also co-producer on the film) has left behind his fiancé and indeed his life – to prepare for battle – against what? Some undefined and never-known invasion/infection by unseen forces masquerading as humans (thus the title). Against the instructions of his “recruiters”, Wyatt flees to the big city, where he reunites with childhood friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel – also co-producer on the film) hoping for some peace and if not that – an ally in this pending war. Wyatt is obviously homeless, so without asking any questions, Christian invites Wyatt to stay with him. Things in Wyatt’s world continue to get worse, as he begins collecting weapons in the basement of Christian’s building and receiving strange, distorted and disguised phone calls in the middle of the night – making certain that he’s in preparation mode and advising him on the next steps in this epic battle.
The film doesn’t work on all levels, but it has many strong moments. If I were basing this review solely on performance and the loyal relationship constructed by writer/director Perry Blackshear and the two lead actors, we’d be looking at another perfect score.
There is a genuine sense of paranoia throughout – and like the creepy title suggests, you definitely get a sense that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an inspiration – at least slightly. But this is not about pod people, it’s about brotherhood.
As Wyatt, Andrews clearly defines his character’s state of mind. There are many sequences where you’re waiting for Wyatt to go bat-shit crazy, but he always comes back. And I think that’s intentional. Every time he looks into this best friend’s eyes, you get the sense that Christian’s love and loyalty are always able to bring Wyatt back from the brink. It’s also painful to see that Wyatt’s a pretty nice guy, so when he goes down these wormholes of paranoia, you feel sympathy. That’s a credit to Andrews’ darting eyes and defeated physicality. He’s scared (as he should be), but you can also sense in his body language that Wyatt’s just plain tired. Sure, he’s preparing for this “event”, but in one harrowing scene, you’ll understand just how tired he actually is.
Dumouchel’s Christian has apparently been on an upswing of confidence during the 10-year absence of Wyatt in his life. He listens to motivational tapes, has moved up at his company and is on a daily workout regiment. Both Dumouchel and his character are adorable and the kind of guy you want to put in your pocket and take home with you. On the other hand, Dumouchel brings to Christian an empty-feeling neediness and an unquestioning faith in his friend. Even after an intense evening where Wyatt reveals what they’re up against, Christian is in the kitchen the next morning making breakfast as usual. By the time the climax comes around, and things in Christian’s world have failed (including a terrifically believable and fun romance with Mara – played by the effervescent Margaret Ying Drake), he has nothing to lose and will blindly and loyally (in case you can’t tell, that loyalty is an overriding theme throughout) do whatever Wyatt asks of him.
There are very few visual effects, but when they take center stage, you’ll be impressed and disturbed. And They Look Like People may be short on “boo” moments, but the scares it does supply are solid. It’s more about the pervasively ominous atmosphere rather than the jolts.
Per a conversation following the screening, my husband mentioned that this film would make a stunning translation to a live stage production. And he’s right. Although the film is creepy, this friendship is the driving force, and what’s more important to any story (stage or screen) than strong characters and true relationships? And the film’s inherent intimacy would serve a stage version well.
Take note, Mr. Blackshear – make the next stop for your striking script – the proscenium arch or black-box of an intimate theatre-space.
The climax is intense, as are many other sequences, but within this amazing character study, a little more action would have benefitted some of the slower sequences. I recognize it’s not that kind of film, but it definitely feels as though something is missing.
In the end, it’s pretty clear whether Wyatt is actually experiencing this forthcoming invasion or whether these are simply hallucinations of a damaged mind. I would have preferred that the revelation be left untold, but that’s obviously a personal preference. That’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the emotional release and relief of the final moments, but something more open might have been more satisfying.
See the film for the relationship – the reveals of the lives of these characters, specifically in their 10 years apart as they happily regroup. There’s an ease and relaxing comfort in their short-hand and their knowledge of one another. The scene of drunkenness where they play games of their youth will leave you laughing and internally aching with memories of your own similar childhood goofiness. Blackshear and his talented cast perfectly capture a friendship which has no boundaries and no end. In that, the film is a clear winner.
They Look Like People is a marvel of writing and acting, and the film will leave your heart warmed and broken. As far as other aspects, it’s good, but not great.
The film is making its rounds on the festival circuit (very successfully I might add) with wins for “Most Innovative Film” at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival and a Special Jury Award for Narrative Feature at Slamdance 2015 – among many others.
There are no announcements regarding a wider release, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your senses heightened – both for the pending invasion of disguised humans or for further information on the film’s release.