Two scientists who share a romantic history are tasked with investigating unnatural animal behaviour on the site of a Manson Family-style cult's compound.
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A few weeks ago, moviegoers were treated to one scientists-in-the-woods movie with the effective - if uneven - Annihilation
. Now, they get another in the less effective They Remain
is about two researchers, known only as Jessica (Rebecca Henderson from Mistress America
) and Keith (William Jackson Harper from Paterson
and True Story
), who are sent to study strange animal and plant life patterns in an area that used to be home to a cult that slaughtered dozens of people. Jessica is the brains, while Keith is the muscle, and together they gather samples by day, then analyze them back at their makeshift compound by night. Before long, they start hearing strange noises in the woods outside their structures, and night after night, the noises get closer. They begin to wonder if some members of the cult are still around, if there are ghosts in the forest.or if it's all just inside of their stressed and impressionable minds.
was written and directed by Philip Gelatt (The Bleeding House
, Europa Report
) from a Lovecraftian short story by sci-fi/fantasy writer Laird Barron. The setup is engaging enough, with the pair of isolated scientists digging into things that should probably be left alone. The mystery unfolds deliberately and methodically, with Jessica and Keith each knowing things that the other doesn't, and subtly sharing the information with each other - and with the viewer. At some point, however, it hits a wall, and the mystery stops revealing itself. But the movie keeps going.
There's a film school vibe to They Remain
, like Gelatt wrote himself into a corner and then just faked the rest. It's a very slow burn movie, which is great when it goes somewhere, but as it progresses, They Remain
seems to raise more questions than it answers. It wanders its way through its plodding narrative, like it was originally a short film (or a short story.?) that was padded to feature length. Sure, there's some creepy stuff that happens, made even creepier by the remote location and the weirdly distorted Tom Keohane electronic score, but all of that just further frustrates the viewer, giving them hope for some potential that never really manifests.
is not a bad movie. It's not a good movie, either. It's a rather forgettable movie, which is the worst of the three to be. It may be worth the 100 minutes or so of time to watch, but don't waste any more time after that thinking about it. Just move on.
For what it's worth, They Remain
does have a visually striking look to it. It was shot in the woods of upstate New York and rural Massachusetts by documentary cinematographer Sean Kirby (Zoo
, Racing Extinction
), and the location becomes not only another character in the film, but in fact becomes the antagonist. Kirby is able to juxtapose the clinical sterility of the nameless corporation's science compound with the lush greenery of the possibly haunted forest, mainly by framing his shots so that the setting takes up just as much of the image (if not more) than his subject. Kirby is also able to capture the creeping madness and internal fatigue of the scientists by playing with soft and selective focus, as well as fisheye lenses, that help the audience to feel just as isolated and confused as the characters. Kirby's photography is almost enough to save the film. Not quite, but almost.