They Remain (2018)
Director: Philip Gelatt
Cast: William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson
Based on the 2010 short story, 30- by award-winning author Laird Barron, They Remain follows two scientists, Keith (William Jackson Harper) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson) who are sent out by a huge corporation to investigate abnormal animal behaviors occurring in a previous remote area that had some horrible killings happen in the past. Their mission has a month in duration and they are offered high tech surveillance material and a lab to research initial findings. With Keith as their boy scout who goes on according to schedule every day in different districts they’ve established to observe and Jessica to stay back at the camp to do any analysis, the dynamic and relationship of these two people start to evolve over the next days we follow their progress.
They Remain starts off the story on the right foot. All the right elements are placed into action, just like Keith’s surveillance system and schedule. Things work well in the “no news is good news” sort of deal. We literally watch a lot of walking around and checking surveillance cameras and replacing some gadget in it and Jessica moving around in the lab working on this and that and they talk about trust and human relationships and leak information about what happened in this area years ago and what this mission means for each of them. Quite like a normal indie film, the scale is small so we get to learn about Keith and Jessica as they are primarily the only two people in this film with a small cameo by one other person. There is nothing wrong with this angle actually it is a smart move. William Jackson Harper and Rebecca Henderson both do a great job in delivering a very good performance with what they are given here.
Much like any recent indie films, They Remain is a slow paced film which starts off with the very mysterious location with a history set in the vast and mysterious open nature. It gives us time to know their two leads and their relationship while sprinkling some findings throughout related to animal behavior such as a dog which seems made a reference to a wolf at one point and abnormal wasps and ant activities. They make great use of this material and setting and have visually appealing shots and cinematography. All of the beautiful visuals are paired up with an off putting and creepy background score that creates an eerie and mysterious atmosphere. There are horror imagery such as red skies and expected jumpscares that always deliver and a mystery cloaked man. These all help build the suspense and atmosphere.
There is a lot of potential to be a fantastic horror thriller here but where it falls apart is in its script or perhaps the execution of the script. Many adaptations have the same issue of not correctly interpreting what the source material wants to portray well enough. I haven’t read the source material so there is no comparison so I can only give it the benefit of the doubt. They Remain does a lot of atmosphere building but essentially always delivers on its jumpscares rendering it predictable. The first few times the score gives it a boost and some scare factor but as the film goes on, the slow paced paired with predictable jumpscares and an expected development for Keith and Jessica’s relationship all make for a fairly flat experience. What does try to make it more suspenseful is the distortion of reality and illusion that lies in the central question of what is going on here. Keith will keep seeing these different sequences that amp up in intensity and then get cut back to what we would expect is reality and it brings in the question of whether it is actually real or are they merely nightmares. The suspense is present but sadly, there never seems to be a great payoff for all this build-up but rather a not so surprising twist for the ending.
Overall, They Remain delivers on many of the aspects, whether its characters, visuals, setting and music and does it very well but matched up with the pacing and the execution of the script, it just seems to be lacking and not worth all the build-up in the grand finale.
Available On Demand and Special Edition Blu-ray Tuesday, May 29 (US & CANADA)
On all major VOD platforms including: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Xbox/ Microsoft Store, PlayStation, Vimeo, Vudu, Fandango Now, Kanopy. Also on Movies onDemand via Comcast, Spectrum, Cox and other cable operators