Based on the novella by Laird Barron, THEY REMAIN (2018) is a creepy psychodrama about a pair of researchers investigating phenomenon at the site of a cult massacre on behalf of a mysterious corporation. That’s one hell of a setup, and while the film achieves a high level of creep and tension, its overall slow pacing and last act’s splintering, unreliable narration may achieve the film a deep appreciation but maybe not love. The payoff is satisfying, but perhaps not enough.
More about the plot: Keith (William Jackson Harper) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson) are field researchers for a corporation seeking new resources to exploit. While the goals of the project are unclear, apparently the team investigates strange phenomenon looking for resources that can be controlled. In this case, the remote wooded area is almost devoid of animals, makes insects behave strangely, and also affects people, including previous researchers and the members of a local cult, which went from drugs and sex to thrill killing.
They don’t seem to like each other much. Keith is distrustful of people and roams the woods setting up cameras. Jessica is an obsessive nerd and handles the lab work. Soon after they arrive, the equipment begins behaving strangely and odd knocks and whispers occur at night, along with bizarre nightmares of the land’s previous inhabitants. After Jessica finds a giant horn of some massive beast, things get really wonky, suggesting that even when dead, the beast is still affecting the land around it. Keith and Jessica begin to spiral into madness.
Overall, there’s much to like here. Harper and Henderson are solid actors who give their characters a lot of life and interest. The idea of the bone of some Lovecraftian creature affecting its area is a compelling mystery, and the history of the cult is pretty cool. The big strokes work. More challenging is the rubber-meets-the-road elements such as pacing and sometimes frustrating lack of coherence as reliable narration disintegrates toward the final act.
I came away with a deep appreciation of the ideas and general execution, though I didn’t fall in love with it. Recommended if you like slow-burn horror with a somewhat sci-fi bent.