They Look Like People A melancholy, creepy little psychodrama that riffs on the Body Snatchers/They Live syndrome, as a disturbed character comes to believe that inhuman duplicates are taking over the world and he’s receiving cellphone messages of warning from some secret underground or taunts from the new masters. It’s also an affecting study of an enduring but strained friendship between two guys on very different life paths. Christian (Evan Dumouchel), an ostensibly affable guy, has plainly made an effort to turn his life around after troubles – he works out at the gym, listens to motivational tapes and is seemingly doing well at his job, but it has taken him months to ask out his supervisor, Mara (Margaret Ying Drake), who kind of likes him, and it gradually emerges that he’s suffered a serious breakdown in the last few years and tried to kill himself. And he’s the ‘normal’ one. Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), his friend since school, is a bearded, homeless-seeming sad sack who winds up crashing at Christian’s NYC apartment – which has roofspace and a basement (‘it’s for killing people or raping animals’) – and tagging along on Christian and Mara’s first date, which gets sidetracked because Christian asks Mara to bring a friend, Sandy (Elena Greenlee), who falls over before the couples have even got together and so they all spend the evening sitting around in hospital. We get flashes of who the guys used to be as they play one-on-one basketball and Christian pre-emptively brags about being in shape to finally win a game with Wyatt, and then they indulge in credibly childish knockabouts (‘blobby wars’) under sheets chanting their significant shared favourite song ‘Johnny, We Hardly Knew You’. All the while, Wyatt receives almost-certainly-imaginary messages but, knowing exactly how crazy his story will sound, tries to keep his delusions from his friend, only to start the awful warnings when he can no longer bear the idea that Christian doesn’t realise that the invaders are a threat to him. Wyatt hides weapons in the basement and tinkers with a nailgun for sniper use … and Mara, who is genuinely warming to Christian, tactfully has to ‘let him go’ in an excruciating sequence. ‘Good job dominating everyone’ reads a post-it note on the boob’s computer as all his workmates look away while he clears his desk. There’s always an echo of Repulsion in the mad-retreat-into-an-apartment story, though this falls into a sub-category (along with Dead Ringers and Bug) where two people with overlapping neuroses and manias wind up in a decaying flat and are perhaps a threat to each other as they feel besieged by phantoms. Writer-director Perry Blackshear and a small cast work hard to create complicated characters and a tangle of a central situation which becomes suspenseful in the sense that we become involved with all three of the principles and genuinely don’t want to see terrible things happen to them even as their cross-purposes feelings and beliefs make an unhappy outcome more likely. Blackshear layers in sounds and distortions and odd elements that convey Wyatt’s vision of a world full of impersonators, with very sparing use of CGI to make Mara look briefly like an alien.
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