They Look Like People (2015)

The rise of ‘Buddy Horror’

There is a sub-genre of Horror which IMDB calls “Alien Infiltration” and a cursory keyword search of ‘the database’ suggests it is a potentially rich yet largely untapped theme.  Notable entrants include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)  and its various remakes as well as the much loved yet now quite dated John Carpenter film  They Live (1988).  Carpenter’s film was based on Ray Nelson’s very short story  Eight O’Clock in the Morning  with Nelson himself employed to write the screenplay.  

Perry Blackshear’s Directorial debut feature  They Look Like People (2015)  is still perhaps the latest entrant into the sub-genre, focusing more on the psychology of its hero-come-antihero as he struggles to distinguish reality from fantasy (read ‘nightmare’). Yet Blackshear’s film is several iterations away from any of the aforementioned efforts.

In fact stylistically, They Look Like People  is akin to the work of Blackshear’s comtempories Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. By this I mean the film is part of a movement which places relationships between characters at the forefront of Genre storytelling.  The duo’s films  Resolution (2012)  and  The Endless (2017)  are both as concerned with the endurance of male friendships amid horrific circumstances as they are with staples of the Genre.  We may now come to define this ‘Buddy Horror’ as its own sub-genre.

Far from derivative, Blackshear’s debut is suspenseful and atmospheric, containing minimal gore yet just enough half-seen body horror as to keep one white-knuckled.  Its dramatic question is less about whether or not its main character is mentally ill than about whether or not the relationship between its two ‘buddies’ will endure in spite of this challenge.

They Look Like People  is not perfect by any stretch.  It lives and dies on its portrayal of the relationship between its two leads.  Relative newcomers MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel do a fine job in both the portrayal of the central relationship and in service of suspense.  Yet generations of Horrorphiles raised on jump scares and gore may not find what they’re looking for here.  The suspenseful moments are truly suspenseful but there is as much time spent on portraying the key relationships as on anything else.

Yet considering its budget and the relative inexperience of all concerned  They Look Like People  more than exceeds expectations.  This film is evidence of a unique vision and cinematic craftsmanship.  It is also evidence that ‘Buddy Horror’ is here to stay.

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