Movie Review: They Remain is a ‘New Weird’ Master Work
UPDATE: They Remain is finally on iTunes for Pre-order. Go watch what we called the first can’t miss horror movie of the year.
Philip Gelatt has lived in the world of H.P Lovecraft. Literally at one point in time he could see Lovecraft’s house from his own. It is no wonder he chose to start his film with a quotation from the Weird master himself “Wise men have interpreted dreams, and the Gods have laughed”. The quotation gives us permission to view this movie with an equally skeptical eye. We are about to enter a world where the very nature of reality is questioned. Not only is it to be questioned but we as the audience must make peace with the fact that in Gelatt’s reality there are no universal Truths to our questions. They Remain introduces us to the two main characters (they also happen to be the only characters) very early on. Keith (William Jackson Harper) is a company man. He is also the fixer. When the company needs to get a job done, even under less than ideal circumstances, he is the man they call. Harper does an incredible job bringing this character to life and making him look and feel real. His comedic roots (Harper is currently in the NBC comedy The Good Place) allow Keith to be a fully formed individual who can often provide a little lightness to an increasingly uneasy situation. His counterpart, Jessica
(Rebecca Henderson) is best described as aloof. She is the coworker that refuses to connect with her fellow employees and will challenge company rules even if it negatively impacts her colleagues. She is at best prickly and at worst a pain in the ass to be around. Its in this tension between a company man and an employee who is not easy to get along with, that the movie really shines. This feels like a REAL relationship in the beginning of the film. The two do not interact well. It feels uncomfortable and in that way it reminds me of so many different work relationships. This form of negative chemistry really sets the stage for the rest of the movie.
As the film progresses it utilizes stunning camera work to give us a since of just how isolated these two characters are. There is something deeply unsettling in the fertile green of the valley that their tent is set up in. This earthly richness makes their home base look even more alien. The way the outside shots are framed we do not not entirely trust this environment which is really a critical element of the “New Weird” sub genre Gelatt has maneuvered the film into. The movie builds in the audience a sense of agoraphobia. As the tension between the two characters build we spend more and more time outside the safe confines of the tent. It also becomes clear outside help cannot or will not come.
The movie may move slower than some like but that is really a hallmark of the Weird. Those that are familiar with Lovecraft or other Laird Barron (the writer of -30-, the story They Remain is based off of) stories will note rarely do they move at break neck speed. In fact the matter of fact pacing helps build tension and contributes to the unsettling nature of the plot. The main characters often do not notice that something has gone wrong until its way to late. That is exactly what happens to Keith. The small signs and problems he encounters throughout the first two acts of the film seem to him mere annoyances rather than telling signs of something bad on the horizon.
The New Weird also utilizes dream sequences to try and blur the lines between reality and hallucinations. Gelatt employs this technique perfectly to give us a sense of what remains on the hallowed ground. Through these dream sequences, clearly
influenced by John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, we get to meet some of the crew of the Manson like family that lived on the land in times past. I loved the fact that we visit this crew but we have no real idea of the timeline. As with Prince of Darkness time seems to operate differently within this Weird world. Dreams are not the only element of the New Weird. Throughout the film we are given glimpses of pagan artifacts and animals that seem very foreign to the land. Perhaps one of the best examples of the unsettling nature of this film is the use of a lone dog who is gentle reminder of Keith’s past while also a harbinger that all is not what it may seem in this strange land.
The end of this film purposely fills us with more questions. It functions like a Choose Your Own Adventure book in reverse. Depending on your answer to the movies final question you can and will have a dramatically different read on the entire movie. Many directors create movies to try and answers questions. It takes a brave director to create a movie to ask a question and provide enough creative space for the audience to develop their own responses. Gelatt’s vision is confident in both his own filmmaking but also that his audience will buy into what he is selling. If the general audience is anything like the audience reaction at Panic Fest or here at Signal Horizon we think he will be satisfied.
This is not a movie heavy on blood and guts. What little gore this film has is done realistically and with specific purpose. Its scares come from dread and unease rather than being startled or grossed out. We highly recommend this movie to anyone that likes Weird movies or literature. If you like Barron or Lovecraft you will surely recognize the references and feel at home in the storytelling. It has a distinctly literary feel and we mean that as a great compliment. It is a film one could easily show a high school English or film class, minus a few adult scenes. Gelatt is already a master of this genre and we are excited to see what else he may produce.
Tyler’s Grade: A Solid A. If you like Weird you will love They Remain.
Did you watch They Remain at this year’s Panic Fest. If you didn’t do not worry it opens in select theaters on February 2nd. It will have a broader release March 2 before heading to VOD in May. Do you like The New Weird be sure to check out Episode 2 of the Horror PodClass. Its devoted entirely to our favorite sub genre. Be sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get the latest commentary on all things Weird or just subscribe below so you can be one of the firsts to read our newest stuff. Stay Tuned
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.