When I was offered the opportunity to write up my choice of the Fantasia International Film Festival line up, I decided to start with a few selections from their straight up horror movie features. With summer blockbusters and Oscar bait films as my cinematic main course for the past few weeks, I thought it would be refreshing to delve into something spooky and something independent. So far, I have indulged in two indie horror films, and I’m happy to report, that They Look Like People, penned and directed by Perry Blackshear was a satisfying surprise to say the least.
To offer a simple categorization, the movie is a psychological-horror, bromance, and keeps it low budget by only offering the audience modest simplicity in the practical aspects of filmmaking, such as set design, and very little special effects. This movie’s strongest tool in story-telling is perspective, tone, and excellent writing, featuring slow reveals with an emphasis on the interaction of two life-long friends with very broken psyches.
I would describe the writing as dry and purposeful, tactfully sharing with the audience filtered tidbits of character perspective, timed beautifully to create tension. The main characters are two life-long friends, of whom we are led to understand, have supported each other through a long history of interpersonal drama and conflict. They accept each other in the way that only true friends do, with love, trust, and total acceptance of each other’s faults. And it’s from the faults of each character that the story arc blooms and the audience is treated to an ever growing sense of horror. Each reveal is smartly timed and effectively executed, squeezing the audience in an every tightening coil of uncertainty and comfortless terror as the movie progresses.
The acting is adequate, underplayed nicely to set the mood and pace of the film. There are a few moments when Mara, a secondary character played by Margaret Ying Drake, feels out of place, mostly on account of her light and high-pitched voice. For a movie with such a dark and deliberate tone, I might have casted this role with an actor that is a little less adorable to reinforce the creepy vibe. She gives a good performance, to be fair. It’s just that her character encounters some very scary moments, so when a childlike voice projects in a moment of critical tension, you lose the gravitas of fear and you have to bring out that grain of salt. My only other complaint is that in some of the scenes, the blocking feels stiff and uncomfortable. Most of the movie is filmed inside an apartment, so I’m assuming there might have been limitations on space and lighting options. Not a deal-breaker for sure, but awkward enough to notice at times.
Subtlety is key for a movie like this to creep up your spine, and there are no easy giveaways. They Look Like People requires patience and doesn’t give you instant thrills. Rather, it offers slow-burn techniques that are thought provoking and memorable. The film is an exercise in pure and simple psychological horror. It’s one of those experiences that gets better the more you think on it, and I find myself admiring this indie more and more as I roll it about in my head. It’s a deftly woven story that will linger in your mind for days after viewing.
Well done, Mr. Blackshear, I hope you are just getting started.
Thanks for reading,
Diva Del Mar