Horror films have always forced us to perceive our world in a different light. The films we now label as horror classics are regarded as such due to their multilayered themes and characters. When firing on all cylinders, the best genre films simultaneously entertain and demand that you feel something. If a horror story can scare you while leaving you with something to think about afterwards, then you know you’ve encountered an impactful work of art. Filmmakers such as John Carpenter and George A. Romero have done this for decades, while more recently Jordan Peele has become the big name in deep-thinking genre films. With so much to stream and see in theaters, there’s bound to be a few indie gems that get lost in the process. One of these forgotten gems is 2015’s THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE; written and directed by Perry Blackshear.
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE tells the story of two longtime friends who have fallen out of touch with one another, only to be reunited under curious circumstances. Wyatt has recently separated from his fiancee and is in need of a place to stay. Christian has also parted ways with his significant other and can relate to his friend’s grief and disillusionment. Christian invites Wyatt to stay with him, and the two old friends begin to catch up and piece their friendship back together. Things are different for both of them now–Wyatt is reclusive and guarded, while Christian feels inadequate and insecure. As they both attempt to put their lives back together, the two friends begin to strengthen their connection to one another once again. All seems to be normal until Wyatt receives a strange phone call from an odd voice, instructing him to leave the city and be weary of demonically possessed individuals.
Naturally, Wyatt begins to suspect that he could be mentally ill and attempts to seek treatment for his hallucinations, only to find those he has been confiding in have been possessed themselves. The demons Wyatt has been warned about begin to manifest in the bodies of familiar faces. As the film progresses, both characters experience the full brunt of their afflictions. Christian continues to deal with confidence issues while Wyatt has a hard time separating visions from reality. Eventually, the friends find they must confide in one another in order to conquer their literal and figurative demons. The tension mounts as Christian must decide whether or not his friend is going crazy, and Wyatt must decide if Christian is possessed, or can be trusted.
The story culminates in a final sequence so raw and emotional, you may forget you’re watching a horror film. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is by no means visually flashy or effects-heavy, and relies mostly on the brilliant writing and directing of Blackshear, and some remarkably convincing performances by MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel as Wyatt and Christian. The demonic possession scenes are brief but effective—and there’s enough chills and scares to solidify this film in the horror classification. Above all else, the film stands proudly as a beautiful and heartfelt meditation on mental health. The scariest monster looming over the entire movie isn’t the demons, but the stigma that has plagued victims of mental health issues since the dawn of time. We spend the entire film questioning if what Wyatt sees and hears is really happening when it shouldn’t matter because it’s real to him—and that alone makes it real enough for the rest of us. In the end, compassion and understanding are the keys to conquering all fear. It’s a poetic and touching message, in a time when horror movies so rarely end on an upbeat note. I’m intentionally avoiding spoilers because this is a movie that deserves to be viewed with fresh eyes. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is a progressive genre piece that both scares and educates. Please check it out as soon as you can, with an open mind, and an open heart.