They Look Like People, 2015


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they look like people

There are spoilers in this review. From the first line. So I’m telling you to go and watch They Look Like People right now. Go on. I can wait. I’m not even going to tell you if this movie is amazing or awful. It’s 80 minutes of your life. What else are you going to do? This review will still be here. So go on – off you go. Watch the damn movie. Then come back here and read this. Unless you’ve watched it already. In which case, fine. You can stay. As for the rest of you – off you go.

Ok. So you’re back. Did you watch it? You better have. If you didn’t, you have no one to blame but yourself. Here we go. Last warning…


If I were feeling cynical I might say that They Look Like People is a low budget movie about curing schizophrenia with the power of friendship.

But for once I’m not feeling cynical. They Look Like People is the first movie to movie to melt the flinty little block of ice I refer to as my heart, since It FollowsThey Look Like People managed to cure me of the sense of revulsion and malaise I was suffering following A Cure for Wellness. A movie that made me question whether I ever wanted to sit down and watch another horror movie ever again (yes, it really is that bad).

They Look Like People is a genuine passion project. It’s not perfect (I’ll be brutally honest here – the sound quality is janky as shit), but it is far closer to perfect than anyone could ever have anticipated.

Perry Blackshear, the writer, editor, director, casting director, sound designer, cinematographer (the list goes on…really), worked a 9 – 5 at a digital agency while working on this project. The man is clearly hiding some kind of super powers. Seriously dude, this just isn’t natural.

And what Blackshear, his cast (all are Blackshear’s friends from college) and crew (small as it was) have managed to create is truly remarkable. And beautiful. And seriously underrated.

The dialogue and interaction between the characters is so realistic that it is almost unbelievable, in the way that art is often more believable than real life. The characters are fantastic with a subtle depth I really enjoyed.

MacLeod Andrews plays Wyatt, the central character who is suffering from schizophrenia and believes the world is being taken over by demonic forces masquerading as people. He is one of the few who can see the demons for what they really are. He hears the sound of buzzing flies and then their heads twist and split open. He starts to receive mysterious phone calls from an unknown source, advising him on how to survive the war. Wyatt begins to stock piles weapons, including axes, a nail gun and sulphuric acid.

Wyatt is conscious to some extent that his experiences may not be real. He seeks help from a psychiatrist but comes to believe his doctor is one of the demons. He becomes fixated upon saving himself and his friend, Christian.

Christian (Evan Dumouchel), is a counterpoint to Wyatt. The straight guy. But his character is subtly complex. Formerly weak and deeply insecure, he has improved his physique through visiting the gym. He uses positive affirmations, recorded and on paper, to deal with his lack of self-esteem. He has feelings for his boss, Mara (Margaret Ying Drake), and tries to act like a cool, tough guy to win her over. He believes that he has progressed at work by learning to dominate.

His sweet nature and kindness are immediately obvious to the viewer through his interactions with Wyatt. He is determined to both support his friend and protect his feelings. He is willing to risk his first date with Mara to stop Wyatt leaving.

In trying to act like a douche-bag to impress Mara, he actually drives her away. His behaviour is at odds with his actions when interacting with Wyatt. When he loses his job we see that his colleagues despise him, leaving a cruel post-it-note on his monitor when he goes to clear his desk, that simply reads: “Good job dominating asshole – Everyone.”

In an interesting contrast to Wyatt who can’t see people as they truly are  – Christian has lost sight of himself. He is struggling with his own mental health issues: low self-esteem, depression, a suicide attempt. Christian believes that he needs to be someone else to be successful but the man we see through his interactions with Wyatt is a great guy.

So at its heart They Look Like People is all about mental illness. And this is where the horror aspect comes in. We experience Wyatt’s mounting paranoia and psychosis through his eyes. We see the loneliness, the isolation and feel something of his constant tension in never being sure what is real and what is a delusion. The film builds the tension gradually, with dark shots, good use of sound effects (it isn’t all bad) and a lot of hinting.

This is definitely the type of film that leaves things to your imagination – and it is so much richer for it. As its builds to the final scene and those heart pounding 10 minutes in the basement, the viewer is fully invested in the characters. We have laughed with them, felt their fear, sadness and pain. The film culminates in a confrontation where Christian knowingly puts his life in Wyatt’s hands. We desperately want things to work out – for Mara to burst in judo kicking and save the day. The conclusion we get is for once, beautiful, tender and uplifting. In a really weird way. I love it.