If the year ended right now, Perry Blackshear’s THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE would be my choice for best film of the year, no doubt about it. Much like the micro-horror of The Battery, Dawning or Resolution, TLLP strips terror down to the bare essentials and puts the emphasis on the personal. What follows is a moving portrait of a struggle with mental illness
Wyatt is a troubled man who finds himself plagued by demons. Whether these demons exist solely in his mind, or are actual entities disguised as humans he has not been able to determine yet. After Wyatt comes to believe his longtime girlfriend has succumbed to the demons, he packs his bags and turns up unannounced on his childhood friend Christian’s doorstep in Brooklyn. Despite the company of his best friend, Wyatt can’t shake his paranoia. If he stays involved in conversation too long, his head fills with the droning sound of buzzing flies. Late night phone calls warn him that the cities are too dangerous, that he can trust no one, and that he needs to spend his time preparing for the coming battle for mankind’s fate. Wyatt is jittery, unsure of himself or his sanity and is desperate to find any sort of anchor to sanity.
Unlike the quiet and introspective Wyatt, Christian is an extrovert that works on shaping and improving his body and mind 24 hours a day. Mantras that tell him he is “a mountain standing a thousand feet tall” fill his earbuds when he’s on the subway, at the gym or taking a break at the design firm he works for. He looks up articles on how to ask out his boss and talks about how he “dominates” everyday life.
While the two friends seem polar opposites of one another, it becomes obvious that they also need one another. TLLP’s greatest strength lies in the dynamic between the two friends. It becomes obvious from their early interactions that the two had fallen out of contact with one another. The performances from both MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel as Wyatt and Christian are layered and moving and immediately sell you on the years of friendship between the two of them.
Blackshear creates moments of unbearable tension throughout the film. TLLP dances around the question as to the reality of what Wyatt is experiencing versus whether he suffers from mental illness. There are moments he gives himself most over to his paranoia that keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what he might do and whether he might harm someone. The horror of the film comes from these small, inescapable moments where Wyatt points a loaded nail gun at passerby from the apartment rooftop. Andrews does a remarkable job selling the dual nature of his terror. He is every bit as concerned that he might be wrong, that all of these voices live inside a broken and unrepairable mind, as he is right about the invaders. You don’t usually see possible mental illness handled with this nuance in a film, where the norm is to portray the character as unaware at the possibility of his fractured mind.
They Look Like People takes a simple premise that has been done to death and puts a unique, personal spin on the concept. It shares DNA with “body snatcher” horror, but the world has been stripped down to the inside of a small apartment and its inhabitants consist of two close friends. It’s a quiet and moving work of psychological horror, and one that deserves to be seen by a massive audience.