Monday, July 4, 2016

Take Shelter, Urban Millennials

The internet (or rather, my very specifically movie-minded Facebook feed) has been abuzz about the newly streaming They Look Like People. As is known, whenever a genre movie gets good word of mouth and runs under 90 minutes, it's most likely going to end up here. 

Quick Plot: Christian is a late twentysomething working in the marketing world of New York City. Between morning workouts and motivational speaking tapes, he comes across as something of a harmless but annoying tool.

Out of nowhere, his old high school pal Wyatt shows up, seemingly aimless and possibly insane. Wyatt believes something very dangerous is coming to steal the humanity away from the world. He's been receiving phone messages with instructions on how "they" can get you, leading him to secretly fortify Christian's basement as a possible safe house.

Christian's big challenges are, at first glance, far simpler: he has a crush on his supervisor, is desperately trying to get a promotion, and is dealing with issues of low self-esteem possibly spawning from his own recent breakup. Maybe it would be easier if he just had to learn the best type of acid to throw on alien people.

They Look Like People is the debut of writer/director Perry Blackshear, and it's been gathering a healthy following of film fans finding it on Netflix Instant. I won't hide the fact that I certainly entered it with raised expectations. That fact did not particularly help things.

My feelings on this film are complicated. The title of this post is part of that problem, and They Look Like People shares many of the themes and beats of Jeff Nichols' powerful masterpiece Take Shelter. Both films center on a man who may have been given a secret window into the end of the world. In both cases, said character doesn't quite know if the signs/voices are real or a figment of his own fragile psyche. It's a strong setup in both cases, but for me personally, the biggest roadblock of the good They Look Like People is that, well, Take Shelter is simply great.

While watching the movie, I was not particularly pleased. The pacing is deliberately slow and quietly ambiguous, but the tone itself didn't quite connect with me. Where I should have been questioning characters' reliability, I found myself more just waiting for the movie to tell me what was real. Despite its 80 minute runtime, this is not a quick film.

That being said, They Look Like People has grown on me post-viewing. Without spoiling anything, I realized, perhaps too late, that this isn't necessarily an Invasion of the Body Snatchers shocker, but more a character study. Thinking about it in terms of what it explores about masculinity in the 21st century made it far more interesting in hindsight than just being a slow horror flick. 

High Points
While neither reach Michael Shannon heights (BECAUSE NO ONE EVER DOES), both MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel give very natural and real performances that go a long way in stabilizing the film

Low Points
Dull. I just found it dull. 

Lessons Learned
You need keys in New York (this is actually pretty true)

Real friendship means shaving you pal's upper back and letting him pour acid on your face

EMTs are perverts who smell like french fries

I'm certainly not as enamored with They Look Like People as a good chunk of the genre-loving Internet world, but that doesn't make it a wash. I can see why this would really connect with some viewers, and with its brief length and quality performances, it's certainly one that you should watch on your own to make a decision. I'm genuinely curious to hear how others felt about this one, so be sure to come back and share your thoughts once you have them. I promise not to throw acid in your face.


  1. I took it allas being a rumination on perceived male anxiety regarding females gaining power over them... in the workplace, in relationships, and physically.
    From that perspective the 'They' in the title are women.

    1. Oooooh I didn't even think of that title play!