“A troubled man suspects people around him are turning into evil creatures….”.
The synopsis alone was enough to win my attention for what turned out to be an excellent film. I’m a fan of psychological horrors that are particular neurotic in theme, the 2006 film Bug came to mind immediately. Interestingly They Look Like People goes in a different direction, and while continuing that paranoid delusion that makes one question what is fiction from reality, it does so in a subtle domestic manner.
The plot is simple enough as two average guys room together, enjoying typical bachelor things and working a job up until one begins to get phonecalls warning him of an approaching invasion. The plot may not contain the most depth, but the execution is precise. The main character listens to positive affirmations, a soft spoken woman speaks as he does daily chores, later a similar voiceover occurs as he receives a phone call from a gravely male voice. Again the audio is specific and articulated. The ambiance is mellow, urban, noir, containing just enough artistic flair without becoming overbearing. The shots are straight forward, and the audio is spot on. In one scene particular he is in a sound booth with a female friend (Margaret Ying Drake), her whispering is the only thing heard. It reminds me of ASMR videos. Whenenever he begins to suspect another is ‘infected’, the paranoia is delivered in a visceral sound of flies on rotted meat. It brings to mind a Belzebub-like image from the sound alone. Clearly what is limited in environment and cast due to budget is made up exceptionally well in the use of simple spellbinding sound. It tempts me to watch the film with a set of headphones on just to immerse myself in the ‘hearing voices’ aspect of it. It is as if the audio becomes metaphorical for paranoia itself, a fixation on the ear and sense of hearing.
While limited in location and budget, every move is significant and effective. The best friend relationship between the character Christian (Evan Dumouchel) and Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) is touching and honest, a unique sight in contrast to the common cynicism in horrors. It walks the line between a psychological horror and testing the extent of friendship. The female friend with the mesmerizing voice (Margaret Ying Drake) is often caught in the crossfire, yet even she shows human sympathy and kindness when most would have not. A central question occurs amidst the suspense and drama, are those with mental illness a frightening threat or human like any other, deserving of compassion and friendship? The balancing act between these two responses is played out with intensity and mindfulness.
Aside from the gravel male voice, there is a soft spoken female voice that warns him of the people around him. I cannot go too indepth and I refuse to spoil the unfolding events. The suspense builds, the powerful acting by the main character (MacLeod Andrews) expresses the tension, and the end is captured in chaotic unfolding, a revealing climax. Viewers may hate or love the ending. Personally I found it honest, refreshing, all too real.
That is what this film delivers, a real and powerful portrayal. One may go into it expecting another quirky paranormal movie or a psychological horror slasher flick. It is neither. It is mundane. They Look Like People is the feature film directorial debut of Perry Blackshear, and also won a special jury award in the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, including numerous other awards including Frightest London. With a debut like this I hope to see more from Perry Blackshear.