Release Date March 2, 2018
Director: Philip Gelatt
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes
I think we all had a good idea that those films which came in the wake of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina would be underwhelming. Garland’s enigmatic sci-fi plotting set in a mix of high tech infrastructure and idyllic nature is both easy to replicate and difficult to execute, as evidenced by 2018’s entry, They Remain.
Ostensibly this film is about two scientists, Keith (William Jackson Harper) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson), who are living in a futuristic lab in the forest outside a cult compound studying weird animal activity. However, the film is really about two scientists who used to sleep together talking about pseudo-philosophy until cabin fever brings them back to bed.
Some science happens and some scary happens and they realize eventually that the forest is making them crazy like the cult people. It’s such a remarkably unimaginative use of a potentially interesting concept that I have a hard time giving it any credit at all. It seems more interested in cribbing Garland’s style than developing an aesthetic of its own that really fits the material.
Normally, while I avoid proposing alternatives that could make a movie better, this film is so boringly made that I feel obligated to suggest something. First thing, rather than using a futuristic laboratory space for the majority of the film, they should have used an ordinary cabin in the woods. Deck out the inside with tech to get the same effects but build the sense of cabin fever better with a more claustrophobic environment.
Second, use exposition to tell or show us something more about the mission and the cult being observed. I know this likely was not done for budget reasons, but even some expository dialogue or title credits would have given the audience a grounding that the characters themselves never really give.
Finally, the one thing that they didn’t steal from Ex Machina but should have, have a musically charged scene. The whole film treads between sci-fi mystery and sci-fi horror and needed moments of levity which could have been provided sonically. In Ex Machina it’s the dancing scene that is simultaneously compelling and creepy as hell. Here they needed that pure weirdness just for the sake of something different given the near 2 hour run time.
I was looking forward to They Remain and it was just disappointing, showing that aesthetics can’t make a film great without a story worth telling.