Perry Blackshear’s first feature reconsiders what elicits fear
Perry Blackshear’s 2015 feature They Look Like People opens with a moody shot of Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) in bed with his fianceé. She turns to face him and most of her face is lost in shadow–but whatever Wyatt sees on it disturbs him. It’s a moment the film returns through again and again throughout its modest 80-minute run time, pointing to Wyatt’s growing fear.
Following the breakup of his engagement, Wyatt finds himself staying with his friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel) in New York. When the two college friends run into each other, Wyatt is disheveled, stressed–and haunted. Gradually, the film reveals what Wyatt’s fear is: an invasion of demonic creatures taking over humanity, with himself as one of the few people knowledgeable and savvy enough to do anything about it.It’s a common enough trope–many films position an innocent everyman-type against an on-coming supernatural threat. The disbelief of their friends and family is a generic staple; the tension rises more and more, as we in the audience discover, along with the protagonist, that no one believes their stories… that no help is coming. But They Look Like People gives us a twist on the classic trajectory. Wyatt’s network doesn’t believe him, but even the audience’s ability to believe him is shaky, once we learn that his fear may actually be founded more in his experience with schizophrenia than a real-life invasion.
But, Blackshear’s film has a second twist that might be even more surprising for most consumers of Hollywood fare. Even as Wyatt’s behavior grows increasingly erratic, as his fear skyrockets, the film avoids framing Wyatt himself as the plot’s horrific element. Instead, even knowing that Wyatt’s hallucinations are just that–hallucinations–the audience is encouraged to side with Wyatt just as much as they are with Christian. The suspense built throughout is simultaneously asking us to be afraid of what Wyatt is afraid of (maybe he is right to have this fear, the viewer starts to wonder) as well as acknowledging the tragedy of the plot, as the relationship between the two friends becomes strained.
This understated 2015 flick is a horror film that’s surprisingly sympathetic to mental health, finding its onset of fear not in Wyatt’s illness itself, but in the consequences that affect him and his friendship. For those looking for a break from the standard tropes of many horror films, They Look Like People is a great place to start.
Check out the trailer for “They Look Like People,” and discover the meaning of fear!