They Look Like People full movie review - Incredible experimental/indie flick
I was lucky enough to see this film as a part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival. I can certainly see why the word underground is used as this is not a conventional film at all, which is made immediately obvious from the opening scene.
It certainly cannot be pigeonholed into one, two or even three genres, and has received comparisons to Darren Aronofsky's Pi, as it is a debut indie film made on a tiny budget. The plot is simple: Wyatt is visiting an estranged childhood friend, Christian, in New York City and it is immediately apparent that something isn't quite right. It seems obvious from the start that he isn't just visiting because he was in the area. In reality, he has fled to New York and has come prepared for what he believes is coming.
From the opening scene the atmosphere is thick and black, letting us know that something sinister is in the air, but we have no idea what it is exactly. Contrasting this, the movie has many humorous moments as the two friends catch up for what feels like the first time in a long while, though this is never explicitly explained. In fact, nothing in this film is clearly explained which adds further to the mystery of what is happening.
Wyatt and Christian have fun together, drinking, playing basketball; while having very candid conversations, mostly revolving around masculinity, as Christian at one point assures Wyatt that he isn't the man that he was ten years previous. The care-free nature of these conversations is yet another element that adds to the eeriness of this film as it contrasts with what is really happening. The dance this film has with different genres is done with a deft touch, and despite the complete lack of long takes, the film flows seamlessly.
Wyatt is receiving phone calls from an unknown source warning him of an impending war, telling him that no one can be trusted, not a friend, not a brother, not a neighbour. We don't know if he is hearing these voices in his head, if they are nightmares, or if they are real phone calls, but soon into the film he becomes convinced that people around him will begin turning into monsters; into demons. He begins to prepare in Christian's basement, stocking up on weapons to defend himself, weapons that he brought for the trip.
What we see, what we hear; we can never tell if Wyatt is delusional or if what he is seeing and hearing is real. I was truly on the edge of my seat for the last 20 or so minutes, for most of the movie in fact, and I am struggling to think of a title to compare this to as it is so unique and unnerving. The way the movie confuses the viewers as to what is reality does remind me slightly of Roman Polanski's REPULSION, and the two films certainly share a similar dark atmosphere, but other than this they couldn't be more different.
Another factor that creates the almost visible tension is the incredible sound editing/design, which is sublime and effectively puts us inside the minds of both characters. Whether it is a clock ticking, the sound of bees buzzing, or Christian's self-help tapes that he listens to on the subway to and from work, the way the sound is handled helps create a edgy and uneasy feeling almost immediately. This feeling is not only maintained for the entirety of the film but it magnifies, helped also by the complete lack of a soundtrack. The use of silence is also apparent and itself plays into the atmosphere that this movie manages to create.
The small budget is slightly evident ? the acting is very solid but it isn't anything outstanding, while the movie utilises only one main set. This doesn't detract from the quality of the film though, in fact it adds a claustrophobic layer to the film, on top of everything else. The camera-work is also done on the cheap but is extremely effective, with a focus on facial close-ups and short takes. For a debut film though, what really shines along with the sound editing is the script. It is sparse but to the point.
Overall, for the money it took to create it, this really is quite something. Its dark nature won't appeal to the mainstream, but I imagine that is the idea of this festival. Personally, I was leaning forward, waiting on every word, every action, unable to predict what was going to happen next. This film firmly marks the arrival of a new director ? Perry Blackshear ? to keep a close eye on, as if this is what he can create with his first film on a self-described micro-budget, I cannot wait to see what he will do with his second attempt.
This is a film like no other, further proving my theory that the smaller the budget, the higher the level of creativity. Amazing stuff.