While horror has frequently been the go-to genre for low-budget filmmakers, extremely low-budget horror has a tendency to bring to mind slasher films with subpar effects or off-screen kills and bad acting. Films like From the Depths, Reel, Walk Away and They Look Like People, the first feature-length film from Perry Blackshear (The Siren, When I Consume You) however are starting to change that. More and more films are using the lack of budget as an inspiration to find new places to take the genre rather than cut corners and that is always a good thing.
They Look Like People’s plot is deceptively simple, Christian (Evan Dumouchel, 40 Days and Nights, Doctor Sleep) and Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews, A Ghost Waits, They’re Inside), two old friends whose lives have taken very different paths are reunited when the homeless Wyatt turns up at his friend’s door. Soon after that Wyatt begins getting calls on a broken cell phone telling him that there is a war coming between humanity and human-appearing monsters. And that he must be ready to fight it.
They Look Like People becomes a portrait of the two men and their struggles with their inner and possibly external demons. Christian can sense that his friend has issues but doesn’t try to play saviour, he just does his best to help, even playing along with some of his theories. Wyatt is schizophrenic and knows it which adds to the uncertainty, both the audience’s and his own. All of this builds to an incredibly tense final act as Wyatt is forced to choose where his beliefs lie.
At first, They Look Like People seems like a zero-budget take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But the story actually shares a lot with Bill Paxton’s film Frailty. Are the people around Wyatt monsters who must be destroyed, or is the monster in his own mind? The film keeps you constantly unsure as to what he believes and what the truth is at all times.
Essentially a two-character play They Look Like People is at times almost a dark bromance between the two leads and Andrews and Dumouchel give strong performances in the lead roles. Andrews is especially good at conveying Wyatt’s mental problems without resorting to clichés.
The only other significant character is Christian’s boss and potential love interest Mara (Margaret Ying Drake, Butterbean’s Café). Drake does an excellent job as a woman conflicted. She has to deal with her attraction to one of the roommates while being confused and unnerved by the other who thinks she’s connected to the voices he hears
While this was his first feature-length film, writer/director Perry Blackshear had directed several shorts and worked as a cinematographer and editor on several others. It’s obvious he’s learned well from them both in terms of getting the most from actors and making the most of a set. He turns the tiny NYC apartment most of the film is set in from a comfy if cramped residence into a claustrophobic hellhole by the film’s end.
They Look Like People is a reminder that you can make a very good horror film with almost no effects or budget if you have talent and imagination. Granted lack of effects will turn some people off but for the rest, this one delivers a surprising amount of tension and a feeling of dread.
They Look Like People is available from Gravitas Ventures. It’s on several streaming platforms including a free with commercials options on Tubi as well as YouTube. And for that price, there’s really no excuse not to give it a chance. You can check out the film’s website for more information.