Friendships come and go as you get older, but the ones you make in your formative teenage years seem to be the ones that stand the test of time the most. Nothing can push the boundaries of a friend’s loyalty more than addiction and mental illness. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE takes a look at mental illness in a very serious way, and how it effects the friendship between the main characters of the film.
The tone of THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is set right away. There is a close-up shot of the face of one of the characters, but the rest of the frame is filled with darkness, giving it a stark and desolate feel. I expected some sort of jump scare, but there was no jump scare to be had. Already. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is not playing by the traditional rules. I like that. Not getting what I expect can be a fun experience — in this case, it’s all the more unnerving.
Christian (Evan Dumouchel), although young, good-looking, and seemingly well adjusted, he is constantly listening to self-help audio tapes. Right off the bat, you know he’s dealing with some of his own demons, not literally of course. As Christian returns home from the gym one afternoon, he’s greeted by his childhood friend, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews). Wyatt is somewhat disheveled in appearance, and is carrying so many bags with him it looks like he is carrying around everything he owns. He reminds me of the character of Dwight in BLUE RUIN, due to his appearance and mannerisms.
Even though it’s an unexpected visit, Christian still lets Wyatt stay with him, because heck… he’s known him most of his life and trusts him absolutely. During a little tour of Christian’s apartment, Wyatt seems obsessed with the basement. A little heavy-handed foreshadowing, but that’s not such a big deal. Sometimes I don’t mind having my hand held along for the ride– just don’t drag me. Interesting to find out that both Christian and Wyatt have broken up with their fiancees.
All the characters seem to be a little bizarre. Most people are. Actually I think everybody is weird, to one degree or another. I love these characters’ chemistry. Christian and Wyatt act like they have genuinely known each other forever. So, the fact that they are supposed to be old friends really makes sense. One very noticeable and unsettling thing I noticed about THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is there is really no music, no orchestral score. So whenever there is some sound added into the film, it really stands out. The creepy factor is amped up about tenfold.
Wyatt already seems awkward and out of place. He spends what time he can in Christian’s basement. He’s covered the windows with newspaper, and is gathering weapons. That’s not the worst of it: Wyatt keeps getting strange phone calls on his cell phone, phone calls warning him of an invasion. It’s never said whether this is supposed to be aliens, or supernatural creatures — just that (you guessed it) “they look like people.” Each phone call gets stranger and more ominous than the last.
If you live in an major city, you can probably attest to the fact that city life can be a pretty freaky experience, and can damage one’s psyche pretty easily. One of the phone calls actually tells Christian that he needs to get out of the city, because if he doesn’t, he may get infected. He feels he can’t leave without Christian, though. The pacing in THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is some of the slowest I’ve ever seen. If I wasn’t thoroughly invested in these characters, I would probably had given up on this movie. If you are looking for action, look elsewhere.
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is a great psychological thriller, but I wish that it didn’t mention schizophrenia. I appreciate films like this and THE BABADOOK, but I appreciate them more when they treat their audience with a little intelligence. When you have to explain everything to people, like in FIGHT CLUB, you lead the audience to think you are making a movie for dum-dum’s. We’ve seen the trope of schizoaffective disorder used many times, but it is genuinely creepy in THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE. It’s hard to tell just how dangerous Wyatt is.
There are many montages in THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, some funny, and others very intense. We really don’t need this much drunk male bonding. There is really not much going on during most of the movie, but it still manages some great chilling moments. As the movie progresses, so does Wyatt’s decent into madness. Just when I thought I know how THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is going to end, I learned I was wrong, and I’m happy about that.
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is a micro-budget, character-driven, independent psychological thriller that delivers on the mental mind-fuck. If you don’t mind a movie passing by at a snail’s pace and not much happening for a while, one that but keeps you thinking about it long after it ends, then THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE might be the movie for you. I really dug it! If you have attention span of a 12 year old meth addict, though, I’d say SKIP IT.
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