Resting an entirety of a movie, especially one such as the new dramatic horror movie They Remain, squarely on the shoulders of just two actors shows impressive confidence in the cast and the presentation of the overall production. Such assurance, at times, can be misguided. Even big budget studios have failed to realize such a daunting task in an advantageous manner. So, can a lower budget movie with limited resources create taut tension in a way that doesn’t feel forced with relatable, engaging performances?
“…researchers who set up camp on the site of a recent ritual cult massacre.”
The narrative of They Remain sets up the reason for its focus on two players in a fairly simple and reasonable manner. Keith (William Jackson Harper) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson) are researchers who set up camp on the site of a recent ritual cult massacre. The wildlife on the compound has been exhibiting very erratic and worrisome behavior since the incident. Neither of them is particularly excited to be there with the other, as they are former lovers, now curt and aloof towards each other. As the days tick by, they become outraged by every minuscule thing the other does, mimicking the unpredictable behavior of the animals they are investigating. Is it the monotony of the work and lack of stimuli getting to them? Or does something sinister remain woven into the site, unleashing its vile, destructive will upon all the living beings around?
Keith and Jessica are fascinating people, feeling fully formed and relatable. This is in part due to the writing, but equally because of the two actors onscreen. Harper plays the listless yet professional Keith flawlessly. The audience can always see his point of view and understand him, which is good because he is occasionally a bit of an arrogant jerk. Henderson for her part equals her male counterpoint in every way. Steadfast but still caring, she makes it obvious what each saw in the other.
“…slow build of dread…”
Based on the short story –30– by prolific author Laird Barron, screenwriter-director Philip Gelatt directs with energy and allows the slow build of dread to slowly seep into the audience’s mind before the buildup explodes into a beautiful, kinetic ending. However, the movie runs approximately an hour and fifty minutes, which means that the purposely crafted atmosphere dissipates for a good ten to fifteen minutes in the middle. There are only so many scenes of these characters bickering and getting angrier at each other, then observing worse effects in the animals, just to rinse and repeat, that add to the plot, characters, and unease. Cutting out a sequence of this would have benefited everything the movie is trying to build towards and how it pursues that destination. It is a great horror movie with more on its mind than just blood and guts.
They Remain opens with an H.P. Lovecraft quote, which sets the mood for the eldritch environment the movie explores. While it runs a bit too long, the direction is impeccable, the acting brilliant, and the ending pays off the slow build with something explosive yet heady.
They Remain (2018). Directed by Philip Gelatt. Written by Philip Gelatt. Starring William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson.