Philip Gelatt’s THEY REMAIN is a tense horror film that delves into the terrifying paranoia that becomes prevalent when subjected to isolation for an extended period of time. Featuring only two characters for the majority of the runtime, the film explores the psychology of its scientist pair as they investigate the deadly encampment of a murderous, Manson-like cult. Upon discovering a mysterious artifact, Keith, played brilliantly by William Jackson Harper, begins to experience strange visions that blur reality, resulting in a descent into madness that is handled in fresh, invigorating ways, despite its familiarity.
Where THEY REMAIN shines most is in the central performances from Harper and Rebecca Henderson. As mentioned, Harper excels in a role that essentially calls for him to lose his shit, and you buy into his paranoia because it never feels foreign. The manner in which Harper presents frustration (Save for the unhinged events that take place near the end of the film) is relatable to the viewer’s own likely management of the scenario, and it’s always compelling to watch. Even through some of the film’s missteps, Harper makes THEY REMAIN worthy of your time and investment. Henderson, too, showcases tremendous talent in her emotionally cold role as Jessica. Ever the mystery, Henderson’s portrayal of Jessica furthers our own paranoia as the events of the film progress. We’re always reluctant to trust the character, but Henderson manages a scarce-but-timely humanity that forces Keith, as well as the viewer, to question whether our own minds are the real villain of this story.
Much of the film takes place in the forest with little dialogue, and Gelatt utilizes his setting to amp up the isolation that his characters are exposed to. His confident direction allows viewers into the same headspace as Keith, but unfortunately, the sluggish pace wears out its welcome at around the halfway point. THEY REMAIN feels as though it’s 40 minutes too long, which poses a problem since the runtime is barely over an hour-and-a-half. Though the recurring monotony of the film’s back half is a mirror representation of the mundane daily routine of its characters, it becomes somewhat of a bore to watch. Things pick back up in the final few minutes, especially in the culmination of Keith’s paranoia towards Jessica, but the frustrating lack of clear resolution to any questions that are posed in the film causes the second half of THEY REMAIN to somewhat sacrifice the investment of the viewer.
Still, Gelatt’s film operates in a way that even the most seasoned horror fans are not accustomed to, and though if it doesn’t necessarily pave new ground, it walks with different shoes. The fervent paranoia, the freshness of the mind-warping scenario, and the strength of the two lead performances make THEY REMAIN a psychological horror film worth visiting.