Wednesday, October 12, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #12: THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015)

The Story: Christian and Wyatt are the kind of friends who know each other’s darkest secrets and deepest vulnerabilities, and have supported each other through a lot of tough times.   But when Wyatt begins hearing voices telling him about the end of the world, it’s a thin line between love and fear.

Expectations: Body Snatchers.

Reaction: This movie hooked me with the opening scene, which showed that the filmmaker is smart enough to play off of horror geek expectations about Body Snatchers.   What makes INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (especially the 1978 remake) work so well is the everyday truth that we never really know what’s going on in another person’s head—even if that person is lying in bed next to us; even if we have known that person all our lives. 

And that’s the acute, every-single-waking-moment awareness of a paranoid schizophrenic.  What THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE does is to force us to live inside the head of such a person for 80 minutes.  It’s not a comfortable place to be.

I once had an extended dialogue with someone I knew well (or thought I knew well) which devolved into paranoid delusions.  This person casually confided in me that she was receiving secret messages via song lyrics on a commercial radio station.  She didn’t seem to think there was anything unusual about that.  In fact, she thought it was funny... Funny because she knew what the songs were really about, and no one else did. 

Over time, she worked her way around to believing—with the utmost conviction and sincerity—that I (and everyone else in her life) was part of a vast, multi-national, multi-generational conspiracy against her.  I tried to reason with her.  After a few hours of conversation, I thought I had managed to make her see reason: I was not spying on her for the FBI.  Sadly, she concluded that I might still be part of the conspiracy--and just not know it yet.  I too was a victim.  Well, not really a victim.  More of a pawn.  She was the only true victim.

That was one of the scariest and saddest relationships I’ve ever had in my life, and I remember really struggling with how to act around her.  Should I tell her outright that she was delusional?  Or should I try to be supportive by playing along for the most part--so that she wouldn't feel so alone?  Which would be more helpful?  Would my decision, one way or the other, profoundly affect her tenuous grasp on reality?   THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE perfectly captures that state of existence.

I shouldn't say anything more, except that the ending confirms that the filmmaker is someone who is interested in more than just making viewers jump in their seats.  Writer/director Perry Blackshear put his soul into this one.  So did actors MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE gets my highest recommendation.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: There are plenty of nightmare-worthy moments, from a cringe-inducing nail-gun scene to a series of indelible fever dream images.  They all work on a subtle level, by first making us care deeply about the characters and then showing us the darkness of the world through their eyes.  This is real horror.

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