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‘They Remain’ is a spooky trip into the wilderness and to the edge of sanity

This is not your typical horror movie.

Director Philip Gelatt’s sophomore effort, the new Horror film They Remain is the tale of two scientists, Keith and Jessica, investigating reported strange behavior among the local animal life in an isolated forest near the site of infamous Manson Family-style murders.

Director Philip Gelatt

Based on the short story “–30–” by Laird Barron, They Remain is not your typical Horror flick. “I am a very big horror genre fan,” Gelatt told me. “But I knew, going into the movie, that this was not going to be for probably a large portion of the horror-going audience. It would not even really be recognizable as a horror movie. Like, it doesn’t really work as a Blumhouse movie. ”

Gelatt made his directorial debut with 2011’s The Bleeding House and went on to write the 2013 film Europa Report.

They Remain belongs in a unique category of Slow Burn Horror that launched filmmakers like Ti West. “Ti West is definitely an influence. I’m a really, really big fan of the Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who doesn’t work as often as he should. He made this movie called Cure.”

Employing similar long takes to those of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Gelatt describes Kurosawa’s films as “exquisitely creepy and sort of full of mood.”

The works of H.P. Lovecraft were also an inspiration. They Remain opens with an epigraph featuring the Lovecraft quote, “Wise men have interpreted dreams, and the gods have laughed.”

Ever since I first read Lovecraft, I’ve been a fan of his work and sort of take– I mean, for almost everything I’ve written, whether it feels Lovecraft-inspired or not, I sort of find something in him to borrow or to homage. He’s sort of like an informing figure for me.

Gelatt also sees a Lovecraftian component in Laird Barron’s writings including the short story for which They Remain is based. “They sort of traffic in similar themes.”

And Gelatt has his own personal connection to Lovecraft. “If I look out my window, there’s a little marker they put up for where the house that Lovecraft grew up in was. [The house is] no longer there. So I actually still live about a block from where his childhood home was.”

Actor Rebecca Henderson

They Remain functions as a two-hander, relying almost entirely on its two actors and the picturesque central forest location. And there were no auditions. Gelatt wanted performers who came from theatre “because there’s a staginess to the material.” So he met with actors William Jackson Harper and Rebecca Henderson:

We just discussed the script and the story. How they viewed the characters and truth of the story.

The film was cast a few years ago just after Harper got the part in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. And soon after they wrapped shooting on They Remain, Harper landed the extremely different role of Chidi on NBC’s half-hour comedy series The Good Place.

“I will always call it a horror movie even though I know that saying that sets certain expectations maybe the film can’t quite fulfill,” Gelatt said. “But I knew that it was going to be a horror movie that was much more about tone and psychology — and the unsettling nature of open questions.”

They Remain opens theatrically in New York on Friday, in Los Angeles on March 9th with a national release to follow.

They Remain
Is it good?
They Remain is a spooky trip into the wilderness and to the edge of sanity. The film works best as a mood piece. If you're looking for clear answers to the film's mysteries, you may find yourself disappointed. But Harper and Henderson put in strong performances that ground the narrative and kept me engaged throughout. I would have preferred at least some more answers than the film ultimately delivers, but They Remain leaves me eager to see what Philip Gelatt makes next.
Strong performances from Harper and Henderson
DP Sean Kirby provides a look that manages to transform the scenic locale into a strange, otherworldly setting
Gelatt pushes the editing style to interesting places in the second half
Doesn't ultimately deliver satisfying answers to its mysteries
The pacing is, at times, too slow and monotonous

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