Phillip Gelatt’s (The Bleeding House, Europa Report) latest film They Remain is nothing short of an intense visual and psychological experience.
The film is based off a short story written by Laird Barron and follows two researchers: Keith, William Jackson Harper (The Good Place (TV), Paterson) and Jessica, Rebecca Henderson (Westworld (TV), The Impossibilities (TV)) on their mission to investigate the landscape once inhabited by an infamous cult.
Keith spends his days visiting various sites, setting up cameras, watching footage and reporting back to his station and temporary home; a bright white triangular structure that lies in stark contrast to the greenery and disorder of the forest around it.
Rebecca spends her days as the stations den mother and logs various reports. She soon develops cabin fever and ventures out into the woods herself, without Keith’s knowledge. It is at this point that the film starts to blend reality with hallucination.
The longer Keith stays in the forest, the more intense and vivid his dreams become. Soon, it becomes impossible to decipher when he is in a dream and when he isn’t because of the strange and scattered timeline of the film.
Jessica then finds a mysterious object, which only heightens Keith’s paranoia and renders him incapable of understanding what’s really happening around him.
The film itself is a visual and auditory trip. Often times, the camera will blur the landscape, tilt the angle, or will use the colour red to evoke shock in the audience. These camera tricks help blends illusion with reality and unearths a strange supernatural horror at its core.
We are never at one point able to trust Keith, the stories main character, therefore Gelatt only gives us the option to sit back and experience this confusing visual experience for ourselves.
It is also important to mention a third character in the film and perhaps the most important: the score. The musical composition in this film is haunting with its various crescendos and pulsing electronic sounds that seem to blend in with the hallucinatory whispers and voices Keith hears.
The first half of the film can be characterised as a series of ‘lead-ups’ where we, through Keith’s eyes, believe we are going to see something terrifying but never do. We see a strange dog in the woods that leads to nothing. We, at one point, see a strange metal object lying in the leaves and that also leads to nothing.
The music and its tension make us believe that we are about to see something horrible but the lead-up disappointingly results in nothing. However, it was the anticipation and the tension blended in with Keith’s hallucinations that had me gripping my chair and waiting for the moment something did happen. That something was what I least expected.
Through this film, Gelatt was able to bring Laird Barron’s mind-bending horror short story (-30-) to life. Through obscuring camera angles, blurring landscapes, and a stirring and memorable musical score, the film successfully portrayed the main character’s paranoia.
However, I am hesitant to call this film a horror movie simply because there was nothing horrible about it. Instead, the film resembles a visual diary. We witness the disorder of the woods through an interesting lens. We are constantly in a state of misperception because of Keith’s hallucinations and are pulled further and further into his paranoia with the various elements employed by the director. Overall, the whole film is an experience and requires careful attention to detail.