Review by James Lindorf
Philip Gelatt, who is best known for writing the cult classic Europa Report and directing the Tribeca Film Festival hit, The Bleeding House, is back to direct his second feature film. Adapted from the novella 30, by award-winning horror author Laird Barron, They Remain is a minimalist psychological horror movie that follows scientists, Keith and Jessica. The pair is employed by a vast, impersonal corporation to investigate an unspeakable horror that took place at the remote encampment of a mysterious Manson Family-style cult. Their mission is to discover the cause of the acts committed by the cult and the unusual behavior of the animals that inhabit the woods. The question is, if the land itself is responsible for the behavior, are Keith and Jessica there to run the experiments or to be the experiment? You can find out on March 2nd, when They Remain makes its debut.
There are about a dozen people who appear in this film or are heard on the other end of the phone, but only two of them have more than a minute of screen time, giving the film a strong feeling of isolation and inescapability. William Jackson Harper (The Good Place and Patterson) plays Keith, the film’s main character. He is the team’s tech person, the one who does the grunt work of collecting the soil samples to be studied, as well as tasked with keeping the pair safe. Keith is the son of a woodsman and prefers the directness of nature to the unpredictability of people. He is highly capable, but mistrusting and disgruntled with his employers. We follow Keith throughout the film as his relationship with Jessica constantly evolves while he slowly unravels, when the land or a supernatural force begins breaking down his resolve. With each discovery, the rate of Keith’s breakdown increases, pushing the film to its climax.
While Keith has a continuous, slow descent through the film, Jessica’s story is a bit more dramatic. What takes days and weeks to wear on Keith seems to be pushing Jessica towards the edge of insanity in just a few hours. It is like anything else in the medical world, if you expose two people to a harmful element, they can have an acute reaction like Jessica or a delayed chronic reaction like Keith. When Jessica breaks down quickly, but seemingly rebounds, we have to wonder if the same will happen to Keith, or will his slow descent take him to depths that she never experienced. Rebecca Henderson (Manhunt: Unabomber) is able to make Jessica an interesting and varied character. She has moments of paranoia and fear. She can be humorous, flirty, contentious or sad, giving us a rich, 3-dimensional character to pair perfectly with Keith.
The film is bolstered by the strength of its performances, but in a way, runs out of steam after that. Not all of our questions are answered, leaving things open to interpretation, which gives the movie a “love it or hate it” vibe. If Gelatt ever gets tired of making fictional films, he could have a strong career in nature documentaries. There is some real beauty and artistry in how he and Sean Kirby, the film’s cinematographer, depict the forest and the insects that call it home. The music in the film is overbearing at times and doesn’t always fit the mood. Despite any short comings, this is a film that should be watched for its performances and cinematography. I would suggest watching it with someone so you can break down what happened and discuss answers to the questions that are left to the audience.
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