THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is a first-rate existential horror film, as well as a psychological thriller. I got the same vibe watching it that I had gotten watching PI and BRICK, the maiden efforts of Darren Aronofsky and Rian Johnson respectively. Writer/director Perry Blackshear understands more than just how to create evocative, even sumptuous, visuals, he knows how to use those visuals in the service of telling a story that is as emotionally engrossing as it is suspenseful while it explores the terror and absurdity that lurk just below the surface of theoretical normality.
It’s also wildly entertaining.
When I spoke to Blackshear, as well as his lead actors, Macleod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel, on February 13, 2015 (I feel compelled to note that it was a Friday), it was afternoon before its second (of three) screenings at SFIndieFest. I warned them that I was a person who tended to read too much into things, but that this film had provoked in me musings on the alienation of modern life, as well as the way we all live in separate realities that don’t necessarily reflect what is happening in an objective sense. Fueled by some excellent French-press coffee (courtesy of the fine people at Larsen Associates, who hosted the interview), and a palpable sense of boisterous camaraderie from the gentlemen in front of my microphone,
Both thoughtful and ebullient during the interview, the trio started out discussing the roots of modern alienation, and moved on to absent colleagues (toasted with the clink of coffee cups), the pressures of guerilla filmmaking, different stages of emotional depth in the adolescent male, and why this is anything but a genre film.
Blackshear’s writing/directing feature film debut centers on a reunion of longtime friends who, while making up for the years they were out of touch, are operating in two separate realities. Christian (Dumouchel) is battling barely concealed insecurities on all fronts as he looks for online advice to date his comely boss and puts his faith in self-help audio tracks to help him get ahead at the office. Wyatt (Andrews), who shows up on his New York City doorstep after a broken engagement, is convinced that the apocalypse is nigh, that demons are infesting the world, and that he is the only one who can save Christian. Told with a fine tension as we in the audience know about Wyatt’s idee-fixe, while Christian has no clue about it as he fights his more metaphorical demons, and engages in esoteric male-bonding rituals, old and new, with his houseguest.
Questions of alienation, trust, and the societal presumptions and demands about masculinity combine in a provocative tale of the more subtle definitions of reality, as well as what to do with a friend in need who may end up killing you. The film co-stars Margaret Ying Drake as the lovely and kick-ass boss. Blackshear directed from his own script as well serving as one of the film’s editors and cinematographers.The film won the Jury Honorable Mention Award for Narrative Feature at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.