Directed by: Philip Gelatt
Written by: Laird Barron (short story) and Philip Gelatt
Director of Photography: Sean Kirby
Music: Tom Keohane
Keith: William Jackson Harper
Jessica: Rebecca Henderson
Based on Laird Barron’s 2010 short story “-30-“, THEY REMAIN is a moody, slow-moving thriller
that debuted last October at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It seems entirely appropriate that the movie first screened there, because it tackles a very Lovecraftian theme: the interconnection between geography and madness. THEY REMAIN certainly understands this theme, as well as that concerning the folly of dreams. The film opens with the Lovecraft quote, “Wise men have interpreted dreams, and the gods have laughed.” THEY REMAIN is an intriguing film, though it may be too safe and staid for many horror film fans.
THEY REMAIN focuses on the relationship between Keith and Jessica, two scientists who are employed by an impersonal (and therefore cold-hearted) corporation to investigate horrors that took place at the remote encampment of a mysterious cult. Working and living in a state-of-the-art, high tech environment that is completely at odds with their stark surroundings (their tents are a sleek, simple marvel of all-white), they spend their days gathering physical evidence, analyzing it, and reporting on their findings.
Inevitably their close work (and isolation) bring the two together sexually. But after Jessica discovers a mysterious artifact of unknown origin, the dynamic between them changes: we go from secrecy to sexual tension and ultimately to paranoia. On top of that, Keith begins to have visions (or are they hallucinations?). Are they real or are they nightmares? Through quick and effectively edited flashbacks, director Gelatt shows us the original cult family that has brought our scientists to the camp. It’s no surprise that the cult leader looks a good deal like Charles Manson…and his female disciples like Marianne Faithfull; when the cult turns on one another and the blood begins to fly, one can’t help but be reminded of the Manson family and the horrific Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969. When Keith questions the nature of this “family”, Jessica asks pointedly, “Does every cult resemble a family, or does every family resemble a cult?” We quickly understand how such families are created; they’re comprised of runaways, homeless, veterans and generally anyone alienated from society. A simplistic and, in this case, sinister combination.
I’ll give the filmmakers credit. There’s a lot to admire in THEY REMAIN. The performances and direction are solid (Harper is particularly effective; you buy his mental breakdown without hesitation). And the music by Tom Keohane (some of which is eerily reminiscent of the synthesizer music John Carpenter was known for in the late 70’s/early 80’s) is memorable. But the highlight is Sean Kirby’s first-rate cinematography. Kirby’s previous work consisted primarily of shorts and documentaries, but his film work here is impeccable. Whether it be capturing soft sunlight or images of ugly savagery, Kirby always gives the viewer something to look at…and sometimes he gives us the only thing to look at.
THEY REMAIN is certainly a slow-burn kind of thriller. I found it to be a bit too slow burning, without a wholly satisfying payoff. So if you’re looking for slash-and-gore, look elsewhere. This is a pared-down, well-made but ultimately average thriller that has some interesting ideas but fails to make an impact. With THEY REMAIN, this slow burner is all smoke and very little fire.
From the back row,