“They Look Like People”
What’s it About?
Suspecting that people around him are turning into evil creatures, a troubled man questions whether to protect his only friend from an impending war, or from himself.
Directed by Perry Blackshear
Wyatt, in They Look Like People, hears voices. He hears them through his cell phone. Ominous, deep and disembodied voices tell, Wyatt, a singularly troubled and isolated individual, that he is one of the “blessed.” To Wyatt, this means that he is a warrior, and one of a chosen few that can really see demonic and other-worldly entities that can assimilate humans around us, to eventually bring on the apocalypse. For all intent and purposes, Wyatt has been recruited to follow instructions and figure out who is who among those around him, even if it means taking matters into his own hands. Wyatt, played by MacLeod Andrews, enters New York City and it is apparent right away, that he is lost and seems to be running or avoiding something in his past. He looks very displaced and absolutely needy.
One day, he randomly runs into an old friend, named Christian (Evan Dumouchel), on the streets of NYC, not too far from Christian’s home. Christian, very surprised and at a loss, to see his friend, eventually has mercy on Wyatt and with astute sensibility, asks Wyatt to stay with him.
Writer and Director Perry Blackshear directs this indie thriller, with help from a grant, made through New York University and Tisch School of the Arts, with these two characters very much at the center of everything. Through their re-introduction to each other, begins an intriguing journey. Christian himself, thanks to Perry’s astute script, also hears voices and the film explores parallels between the two good friends. Christian’s past saw him as a submissive, weak person lacking confidence and drive. Blackshear’s small film takes us on a trip through a world of machismo and manly conventions in the dog eat dog world of young, yuppie corporate New York City.
All this is through Christian’s eyes, as he tries to man up and do himself some good by working up the nerve to ask his boss out on a date. The voices that Christian hears are those of positive affirmations through his headphones whenever he works out, takes the train and rests at home. TLLP explores this duality in painting him as the classic alpha male and gym rat, while still having to reconcile his past which included his friend Wyatt prominently. Christian simply is trying to re-invent himself while listening to voices telling him that he “is a mountain.”
TLLP showcases the 2 actors that play Wyatt and Christian very well. As actors they connect, feel sincere, act natural and seem very much at ease with each other. I can almost hear Blackshear’s direction: Just be yourselves, fellas! And they are. They drink, act out Lord of the Rings, play sock games and take trips down memory lane. But as they grow comfortable together and Christian’s life seems to take a cool upswing with his boss Mara (Played brilliantly by the sweet Margaret Ying Drake), Wyatt takes a turn for the worse as he continues to hear the unnerving demonic voice which now sounds like Mara herself. Blackshear, in his wisdom here, shows very little, creating a tight atmosphere which he builds suspense with. Before all of this, though, we are treated to nice moments of calm before the storm as Mara and Christian bond in nice little segments of the two interacting before a bombshell goes off for Christian at his workplace.
Blackshear brilliantly uses sound (incredibly creepy sounds at that), tight shots and quick cuts of character interaction to incrementally build dread and despair. He also gives us a ringside seat to Wyatt’s slow decline into paranoia and despondency. Wyatt tries to seek out help but shoots it down as he suspects the worse. He also takes matters into his own hand as he begins to take more orders from those voices and prepares for war with dangerous supplies bought in a hardware (sulfuric acid included) store. Christian, otherwise, suspects nothing as Wyatt hides axes and nail guns in his basement.
One night, though, Christian begins to notice a change in Wyatt and Blackshear ramps up the whole affair in the last half hour of this incredbly succinct indie. Christian is awoken by Wyatt having a severe episode and his paranoia begins to scare Christian into a standstill. But being a quick thinker, Christian offers to help. Things get worse as Wyatt suspects Mara of being an “other.”
There is enough subtext in Blackshear’s film for two other movies. What Blackshear does really well here, is give us likeable and real characters, and what lies beneath the skin and in their hearts first, as he also challenges us to look into ourselves and what we would do for friends in need struggling with mental illness. The film is indeed a thriller and some may package it as a horror indie but it is much more than that. TLLP is an exploration. A drama about reconnected friends with emotional baggage that need each other in a dire stretch of their friendship.
What the actors convincingly portray are 2 men that are much stronger together than individually and when real monsters appear (or are they?) the strength of trust and love endures all of that. Films about mental illness, especially in the horror genre, don’t really take the time to show us this side of things and by the very end, the movie lets us know that there is much more to this side of the issue.
TTLP is not an overt horror film and does not use any of the more conventional tropes associated with more big budgeted films of it’s type. It is a film of impressions and implications and hits home more in a psychological aspect. It is a film to be very patient with and it is not for everyone. But Blackshear, who also served as editor and cinematographer, serves up a very unique film about people and by the end, you will look back and see what his intent was from the way he wraps the film up.
Blackshear is to be very commended for making a film that is wholly and truly his. It is beautifully shot, edited and not at any time do you see the film’s budgetary limitations bleed through. Every dollar is put up on the screen and it is a good looking production that makes NYC a character all it’s own and gives our protagonists and characters a stunning backdrop to share the story in. But be warned, if slow burn films are not your flavor of the month, then look elsewhere. If you can tolerate an 80 minute excursion into a character’s slow madness and compelling psychological neuro-drama, then They Look Like People is well worth it. The ending, while open to interpretation, is a knock out, in my opinion, solidifying both Blackshear as a storyteller and the film as a intriguing piece of original work.
“They Look Like People” is currently available to stream in high definition on Netflix.