While horror has frequently been the go to genre for low budget film makers, extreme low budget horror was usually a wasteland of conventional plots done with subpar effects, off screen kills and severely limited sets. Thankfully that’s changing as more and more films are using the lack of budget as an inspiration to find new places to take the genre rather than cut corners. Films like last year’s The Interior, Alienated and now Perry Blackshear’s feature length debut They Look Like People.
The plot is deceptively simple, Christian and Wyatt two old friends who’s lives have taken very different paths are reunited when the homeless Wyatt turns up at his friend’s door. Soon after that Wyatt begins getting calls on a broken cell phone telling him that there is a war coming between humanity and human appearing monsters and that he must be ready to fight it.
The film becomes a portrait of the two men and their struggles with their inner and possibly external demons. Christian can sense that his friend has issues but doesn’t try to play savior, he just does his best to help, even playing along with some of his theories. Wyatt is schizophrenic and knows it which adds to the uncertainty, both the audience’s and his own. All of this builds to an incredibly tense final act as Wyatt is forced to choose where his beliefs lie.
While at first it might seem like a zero budget take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the story is actually closer in tone to Bill Paxton’s 2001 thriller Frailty. Are the people around Wyatt monsters who must be destroyed, or is the monster in his own mind? The film keeps you constantly unsure as to which he believes and what the truth is at all times.
Essentially a two character play this is at times almost a dark bromance between the two leads and MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel give strong performances in the lead roles. Andrews is especially good at conveying Wyatt’s mental problems without resorting to cliches. The only other significant character is Christian’s boss and potential love interest Mara and she is well played by the incredibly cute Margaret Ying Drake. She has to deal with her attraction to one of the roommates while being confused and unnerved by the other who thinks she’s connected to the voices he hears.
While this is his first feature length film writer/director Perry Blackshear has directed several shorts and worked in various roles on several others. It’s obvious he’s learned well from them both in terms of getting the most from actors and making the most of a set. He turns the tiny NYC apartment most of the film is set I from a comfy if cramped residence into a claustrophobic hellhole by the film’s end. Somebody give this man a real budget for his next film.
They Look Like People proves that you can make a very good horror film with almost no effects or budget. The lack of effects will turn some people off but for the rest, this one delivers.
Short video interview with the director and stars: https://vimeo.com/143341836