You might not know much about They Look Like People, the indie horror flick by director Perry Blackshear that's been floating around Netflix recently. In fact, you could watch the first 30 minutes of the film and still not know much about it. While most #horror movies will shoot their scariest set pieces in the dark, They Look Like People opts for a different kind of horror, leaving its audience in the dark with its simplicity and slow-burn approach.
While it hasn't received much attention by mainstream horror fans, this movie definitely has lessons to teach us. By challenging the form and bringing a painfully subtle, psychological approach to its storytelling, They Look Like People builds some of the most powerful moments that the genre has offered in recent years. Without giving away too much of its mystery, here's a brief analysis of why this movie stands out among the crowd.
Trust In The Audience
It's clear from the outset that They Look Like People isn't a film for everyone, as it takes a lot of risks in its structure. One such risk, which pays off perhaps better than any other, is how much trust the film places in its audience. Scenes are often book-ended with a creepy narration: a dark, unexplained presence that lingers throughout the story. Characters rarely speak their true feelings or intentions, and the filmmaker has chosen a limited perspective from which to view the film's events, resulting in a very disorienting piece of cinema, especially during its first half.
Why keep so much information from your audience? Not only does the film build an intriguing sense of mystery by limiting its story information, but it helps you focus on everything besides the story. Blackshear has taken clear inspiration from the "slow cinema" movement present since the French New Wave of the '50s, as he allows you a deliberately paced, more immersive experience by keeping you in the dark on plot points for long stretches of time. This isn't a movie about what happens. Instead, we have a filmmaker interested in how it happens, and we don't see enough of those movies in mainstream cinema.
Clues And Symbols
Once you've given up on following a cohesive story, you can instead let your mind wander, taking note of the beautiful, horrific imagery on which the film relies. They Look Like People is ripe with "ordinary" moments, two characters discussing their lives as people do. However, subtle details may directly or indirectly play an important role in understanding the film as a whole. One of my favorite examples is a character digging through a box of junk, pulling out a Calvin and Hobbes storybook, a telling image if you allow yourself a bit of analysis.
The film's composition is also incredibly important, both thematically and in unraveling the film's complex narrative. This is a movie worthy of multiple viewings to pick up on important cinematic decisions such as framing, narrative perspective and editing, which often tell more about the film's story than the characters themselves. While it's not immediately obvious, this is a film where absolutely no scene is wasted.
A Hint Of The Past
While the movie is definitely a breath of fresh air when compared to big-name horror of today, it's not entirely revolutionary. Fans of classic horror and thriller movies will note key similarities to a number of important films from years past. John Carpenter's The Thing comes to mind with similar themes of paranoia and the presence of a malicious force hiding in plain sight. Blackshear also uses sound in a similar fashion to Carpenter, balancing creepy, ambient static with chilling silence to build a dynamic auditory sensation.
The film's title seems to draw from even further in the past. While modern horror is known for its slick, concise titles (Saw, The Grudge, Rings, etc.), this film takes its name in the tradition of 1950s horror, in which titles were much longer and over the top. They Look Like People sounds far more similar to something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or It Came from Outer Space. This isn't mere coincidence, either, as the film also holds structural ties that will seem quite familiar to these sorts of movies.
Whether you're a diehard horror fan or just looking for something new on Netflix, They Look Like People is definitely worth your time. While it hasn't attracted a wide following just yet, it has some valuable lessons to teach us about simplicity and mystery in horror. This movie isn't just clever and innovative, but it's delightfully creepy as well. Be sure to check it out!
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