Title: They Remain
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Philip Gelatt
Starring: William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson
Runtime: 102 mins
What It Is: Keith and Jessica are scientists investigating a horrible event that happened at a remote encampment of a mysterious cult. As they gather physical evidence and report on their findings, they soon stumble upon increasingly disturbing phenomena that make them question their grip on reality.
What We Think: There’s a sequence about fifteen minutes into the film that just has our two characters talking fireside in the dark woods. It’s a nice enough scene that also serves as one big exposition dump. There’s some character development, the premise is set up, and the film finally feels like it’s going somewhere. Normally, this really shouldn’t be an issue. The problem here is that it took fifteen minutes to get to this point, preceded by very long, dull, and aimless sequences that never build to anything. Don’t be fooled by the ominous score and characters looking despondent and nervous. These wordless scenes are flat and tension-less. This is not atmosphere; this is padding. Fifteen minutes in and I can already smell the smoke of a very, very slow burn. Pacing is the film’s most apparent problem, but the blame squarely falls on the story – well, the lack of one. There simply isn’t enough here to justify a full-length. The horror isn’t effective because the film can’t even maintain your attention. The stakes never matter because the characters’ relationship never evolves and is wildly inconsistent. It’s a real shame, too, because there are some solid, solid elements on display. The cinematography is slick (if a bit antiseptic), the production design is very detailed, and the sound design and editing are the creepiest parts of the entire movie. The actors do their best with the material they’re given, but unfortunately, the script doesn’t let them feel believable or compelling enough. Suffice to say, when the film finished, I had the worst possible reaction. I was neither confused, horrified, nor satisfied; the film just ended for me.
Our Grade: C-, It’s so frustrating because the potential is immediately clear. The story poses strong themes: the exploration of insanity through scientific research and deduction, the frailty of an isolated mind, and of course, the existential dilemma of a dark past resurfacing. You have two scientists investigating what is essentially an old crime scene, on the payroll of some shady, faceless mega-corporation. There really, really should have been more to unpack here.