REVIEW: They Remain
– By Dave Dubrow
Philip Gelatt’s THEY REMAIN is a beautifully-filmed piece of indie cinema that will put you to sleep faster than a handful of Ambien and a fifth of Jack. If you’re possessed of the kind of intellectual superiority that leads you to look down your nose at anyone who didn’t find THE WITCH to be anything but cinematic brilliance from starting titles to Best Boy listing, you’ll probably love it. To call this a slow-burn horror/thriller would be a terrible misnomer, however, because nothing even ignites for the entire film except for a guy’s face in the last five minutes. Sort of.
The plot, stretched thinner across a 102-minute span than your mother’s threadbare Sunday knickers, involves a pair of scientist/CSI-types dropped into a forest and forced to live in geodesic dome-like structures while they set up cameras to study animal behavior and dirt in the wake of a mass murder committed by a Manson-like cult some time ago. I think. This may take place in the future, though it’s not certain. The main characters may have had a romantic relationship prior to the events of the movie, but it’s not certain. The cult may still be out there, but it’s not certain. What is certain is that the film doesn’t give you the slightest reason to care about what happens. We don’t know the stakes. We don’t know what’s really happening. We don’t know why. The only thing that isn’t ambiguous about this movie is my frustration with it.
The actors, William Jackson Harper and Rebecca Henderson, performed ably enough, though their lines were so unbelievably clunky and expository that I can’t believe they were delivered with such straight faces. I wanted to like Harper, but he didn’t do much to help his case. Henderson was just kind of mean and unfriendly throughout, so many of her interactions were fraught with unnecessary conflict. I gather there was supposed to be sexual tension crackling between the lines, so to speak, but I guess my untrained eye just couldn’t discern the subtle nuances. We do hear one character masturbating at some point. I think. It’s not certain.
The cinematography was extraordinary and kept me watching even as I begged God above to speed up time to the end credits (no dice; He’s never done that for me before). Everything was framed beautifully. Colors leapt off the screen. The scenes of the scientists’ white habitat out in the middle of nowhere really worked. Majestic trees. Drifting leaves. A topless, laughing cultist cavorting about. Red filters denoting an eye watching everything. A lot to look at, and nothing behind it.
If you’re going to make a movie this long, you ought to have something happen in it every once in a while to keep us watching. As it is, They Remain was an exercise in endurance for this viewer, and as much as I want to see independent films succeed, this one was a miss.
The Slaughtered Bird