We’ve all gotten weird phone calls from unknown numbers at some point. Lines get crossed. Kids prank. People with sausage fingers press four keys at once, whatever. I once got one from a woman saying she wanted her leather pants back. We’re married now but usually these dumb calls are forgotten about by the next day. Not so for Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews). The calls he’s getting on his busted cellphone aren’t something easily shrugged off. Registering on the no-call list isn’t an option for this poor bastard.
The voice on the other end of the line is always different, but they tell Wyatt the same thing: everyone around you is a monster in disguise and only he can see their true form. They say there’s a war coming between these monsters and the remaining humans, leading to mankind’s extinction. The calls mostly come at night. Mostly.
This sounds like a primo set up for an exciting scifi action flick, but Perry Blackshear’s They Look Like People anything but. It’s pure psychological horror that’s as tense as it is thoughtful. There are moments of extreme anxiety balanced with scenes exploring who Wyatt is behind his apparent mental illness. Shedding all horror movie/thriller conventions, Blackshear has crafted a movie that sneaks up on you with its taught premise, eases you into its rhythm, and then sinks you into its supremely nerve-wracking final minutes.
And it all ends a surprisingly human moment. I honestly don’t think there could be a better ending to this strong, understated indie.
Before the voices started calling Wyatt, his life was already on the skids. Down and out, he randomly runs into his old buddy Christian (Evan Dumouchel) in the city. Christian himself is going through his own crisis, albeit a less terrifying one. He’s suffering from extreme loneliness and uncertainty. For comfort he listens to recordings of his lost love’s voice delivering words of encouragement. The two rekindle their friendship and Wyatt starts crashing on Christian’s couch.
They goof off like they’re kids again – having sock wars and sharing lots of silly chitchat. They’re having fun bro-ing down, but each man’s internal struggle is just boiling under the surface. The film lures you into this relationship comedy territory (there are some very funny moments) then when you’re least expecting it subtly reminds you that this is a horror film. Blackshear never lets us forget that and it’s this balance of the human and horror story is where They Look Like People shines.
The chemistry between Andrews and Dumouchel gives the film some real strength alongside this balance. Their friendship and the bizarre path it traverses is the heart and the horror elements are the blood it pumps. And there is blood. When we’re given small glimpses into Wyatt’s schizo view of the world, it’s terrifying stuff. Nothing overly gory, but enough to deliver a shock. Blackshear, who also served as writer, editor, cinematographer, and production designer, uses shadows and sound to a powerful, panic-inducing degree where the audience is never sure where the scares are going to come from. All of this is paranoia is inflamed when Wyatt arms himself with a nail gun and starts building something in Christian’s basement.
All this tension and the decaying friendship of Wyatt and Christian culminate in a scene of nearly unbearable tension. A line is drawn in the sand and the two friends cross over it, leading to a seriously gut-wrenching final minutes. Like I mentioned, They Look Like People has (in my book) a perfect conclusion. It’s a film of commanding psychological horror that never forgets the human story beneath the terror. That is what makes it so goddamn scary.
They Look Like People is still making the festival circuit and just played the 2015 Mile High Horror Film Festival. We’ll keep you updated with official release dates and such as they roll out.