Movie Review: No matter what we cannot see, “They Remain”

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If one didn’t know better, one might swear on a copy of “Fahrenheit 451” that the makers of “They Remain” had just seen “Annihilation” and set out to do a micro-budget/tiny-cast/no-name-cast version.

They didn’t, of course. But if we’re going to accept this malnourished thriller on its own terms, that’s a good starting point. Yeah, it’s just a little bit like that. A good looking but talky, duller action-starved version of Natalie Portman’s monster movie.

Two young scientists are helicoptered into a remote forest where they set up cameras, run tests and do research from a collection of Buckminster Fuller-styled futuristic tent-labs.

Keith and Jessica are the mismatched pair sent out by “The Corporation” to look for something of biological value in woods made notorious by a killer cult’s crimes there.

Keith (William Jackson Harper) treks out each day, checking the wildlife surveillance cameras he’s set up, looking for some trace of whatever it is that he’s been told “will make you famous.”

Talkative, abrasive and “a little obsessive” Rebecca (Rebecca Henderson) does the lab work and hits him with “Anything weird happen today?” Every day.

Keith starts to have nightmares about whatever is “out there,” and whatever happened with that not-that-long-ago cult. Rebecca starts hearing knocking sounds, and more.

“I swear someone STAGE whispered my name.”

He’s willing to discount that, but he keeps seeing this wolf-dog, and those night vision wildlife cameras pick up hair-raising images of hooded death, or naked cultists frolicking and doing whatever it is they did with their victims. And she is plainly going a little off mission and off center.

“It’s your imagination,” he reassures her.

“I think it’s YOU.”

That “stage whisper” line describes a lot of what we see going on here. These two banter, insult each other, relative company cocktail party gossip and speak only opaquely about their mission, as this burial ground or that artifact from a cave is introduced into their “experience.”

It’s a staged reading of a horror movie screenplay, not a compelling, chilling or even that interesting thriller.

Whatever tone writer/director Philip Gelatt was trying to create, he bores it right out of us.

Whatever the actors make out of these characters, there’s just not that much going on, a little bunker mentality “Blair Witch” titillation, a lot of wandering in the woods and a resolution that’s not consequential enough to dismiss as “a cheat.”

And the players, as in so many horror movies, fail to adequately express the terror, disbelief and shock people do when faced with the unexplainable and seemingly supernatural. Only those snatches of “found footage” of the cult promise any chills, and even they aren’t chilling enough.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, nudity, sexual situations and profanity

Cast: William Jackson HarperRebecca Henderson

Credits: Written and directed by Philip Gelatt, based on a Laird Barron novella. A Paladin release.

Running time: 1:43

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