“THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE” (Mile High Horror Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
There’s a certain skill in creating a psychological horror film that feels ultimately human. While it was Norman Bates who reminded us that “We all go a little mad sometimes,” to tap into innately human fears that the average person can relate to is a difficult task, especially when so many filmmakers go for the explicitly surreal to heighten their scares. Yet it is the humanity of THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE that makes it so absolutely unnerving, playing up the everyday life of the characters and their unassuming normality before twisting the perspective into something much scarier.
In fact, the juxtaposition between the humanity and the genre elements is perhaps the strongest tool that director Perry Blackshear uses in THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE. By getting to know the characters and making them feel like real people in a real situation, then the scarier portions of the film feel that much more tense and terrifying, especially as our protagonist reaches the end of his rope. And even more impressive is how much that sense of reality allows our protagonist to appear as if he believingly buys the concepts that are presented in his brain, which furthermore makes him all the more captivating as a troubled lead.
For those unfamiliar, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE follows Wyatt, a perturbed young man who returns to his old stomping grounds after his fears ruined his last relationship. Reconnecting with an old friend as well as meeting new friends, Wyatt sees hope for normality in his life in spite of his paranoia and issues. However, soon, Wyatt cannot stop his apparent hallucinations, and begins to question if everyone around him is a monster planning on taking over the earth.
As a director, Blackshear shows versatility and confidence in THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, intentionally keeping the staging of the film loose at times, allowing the tighter, more suspenseful scenes towards the end to feel more unnatural and eerie. Blackshear, who also serves as cinematographer, editor, production designer and writer, feels incredibly in control of the film, and keeps the visuals as tonally consistent as the dialogue. And as he lenses the film, Blackshear also knows exactly how to stretch every dollar that’s on screen, making the film feel bigger in scope while keeping the action restricted and claustrophobic.
Yet even with the multiple hats Blackshear wears behind the camera, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE also works thanks to the strong work on display from the cast. MacLeod Andrews is absolutely incredible as Wyatt, selling the quiet terror behind his eyes in every scene, including his more relaxed sequences. Evan Dumouchel is also flat-out great as Wyatt’s more emotional and potentially self-destructive best friend Christian, offering an interesting parallel to Wyatt’s more reserved yet disturbed character. And Margaret Ying Drake is excellent as Mara, Christian’s boss and girlfriend who finds herself entangled in Wyatt’s nightmarish visions.
By brilliantly showing its hand and then throwing a veil back upon the audience, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE mines genuine horror from being careful with its misdirection. By allowing the drama and the humor to remain organic and natural to the presented reality, Blackshear can introduce the horror just as naturally, offering palpable tension when ramping up the scares. While those looking for non-stop scares might be disappointed, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE takes its time to get to a point that is not easily shaken off or ignored.