THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is a first-rate existential horror film, as well as a psychological thriller. 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.
Blackshear’s 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 (Evan 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 (MacLeod 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 idée-fixe, while Christian has no clue about, occupied as he is with fighting his more metaphorical demons, and engaging 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. And doing it for your own good.
This is a horror story that is as much a finely observed character study of alienation as it is about lurking monsters plotting humanity’s demise. That each lives in a world of carefully constructed illusions, listening to voices in their heads, is a conceit that makes the growing suspense uncomfortably relatable, challenging us, as it does, to examine the “truths” we take for granted, and assumptions we make about others. The subjective versus the objective is rendered a maddening ouroboros.
The only absolute is the friendship these two share, made palpable by performances by Dumouchel and Andrews that evoke a sweet vulnerability as well as sensitive intensity. That Wyatt has only the best of intentions, coupled with his undeniable the gentleness of spirit, makes his intentions with acid and nail-guns all the more terrifying, and prompts questions about human nature in general, and its willingness to do evil in order to do good when an authoritative voice orders it.