J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Slamdance ’15: They Look Like People

Who is more delusional, the dude who sees aliens or the compulsively self-helpy would be career-climber? Its close, but we should probably give it to the guy prepping for Armageddon on the basis of a few inexplicable, but admittedly terrifying phone calls. Together, this damaged duo might just have all the problems the world can offer in Perry Blackshear’s impressively grungy, horror-ish They Look Like People, which screens at the 2015 SF Indie Fest after being recognized with the Jury’s Honorable Mention for Dramatic Feature at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.

Wyatt just sort of turned up in New York, running into Christian, his somewhat estranged childhood friend. Both have been dumped by long-term girlfriends, but each has their own special issues to deal with. Christian struggles to get ahead in his hipster firm, despite his low confidence and self-esteem. He is also very interested in Mara, a fast-tracked colleague, but he has a knack for saying the wrong things to her. As for his unexpected house-guest Wyatt, he hears voices.

Late at night, he gets calls from someone like “Deep Throat” in The X-Files, warning him of an imminent battle with the aliens. So far, he and Christian are okay, but the invaders have infected much of the human race, taking them over, mind and body. Fortunately, Christian’s building has the creepiest looking basement you will ever see, where Wyatt can set up his doomsday workshop.

In a way, Like People is the darker but more grounded flip-side of John Carpenter’s They Live, even echoing the title. Blackshear fully recognizes every shoe the audience expects to drop, but somehow he keeps them all dangling precariously for an awfully long time. Frankly, the film is such a slow (but effective) build, it almost defies genre categorization. It starts with general awkwardness, becoming steadily more awkward, while something seriously ominous percolates in the background. Yet horror fans should take note, the sequences depicting Wyatt’s presumptive mania are absolutely chilling.

Co-producers Macleod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel have the oddest, saddest pseudo-buddy chemistry one can imagine, but it feels very real. Dumouchel is also convincingly uncomfortable putting the moves on Margaret Drake’s Mara, while Andrews goes nuts like a champion. As a bonus, the character of Mara and Drake’s portrayal are a nice departure for the typical victim roles for women in horror movies. Frankly, she is more assertive than either of the guys, which is a source of their angst in the first place.

Director-screenwriter-cinematographer-editor-one-man-band Blackshear maintains a tense vibe and an almost claustrophobic focus on his flawed characters. He inspires a lot of audience wincing, but takes the emotional climax in a direction less traveled in horror films. It is quite a micro-budget accomplishment that was the hit at this year’s Slamdance. Recommended for those who enjoy horror, psychological thrillers, and sinister slacker dramas, They Look Like People screens again this Friday (2/13) and the following Wednesday (2/18) during SF Indie Fest.

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