“You must prepare for the war”
I do not consider They Look Like People‘s Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) being revealed as schizophrenic to be a spoiler. He goes to see a psychiatrist pretty early on and is in a constant battle with himself to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. Rather than be a film about whether or not he’s sane, I read it as a mystery carefully hiding exactly what he’s imagining. There may truly be an invasion reaching a fever pitch around him wherein evil creatures are replacing humans in a way that only a select few can discern which are which. It could even be that his schizophrenia is the key to seeing them—a gift even. Perhaps the chemical imbalance allows some wavelength aberration that uncovers their true, grotesque form.
Truth or nightmare, no one would ever believe him. We’re talking about a guy who randomly shows up at his schoolyard chum Christian’s (Evan Dumouchel) to transform his basement into a lair filled with axes and sulfuric acid when not speaking to the leader of his “resistance” at 4am every night. It’s amazing Christian hasn’t thrown him to the curb and a testament to their bond because he proves the polar opposite of Wyatt. He turned his life around by getting in shape, eating right, securing a successful job, and becoming as far from the scrawny geek of youth as possible. Despite Christian being on the cusp of dating his boss Mara (Margaret Ying Drake) and earning a promotion, he’s somehow willing to put his embattled friend first.
Don’t think Perry Blackshear‘s film is simply a rehash of the strong, rational character helping the anxiously insane wildcard via charity and compassion, though. It doesn’t take long to realize Christian is just as lost—he merely hides it better. The life he has led is a sham of confidence he always possessed but needed the fabricated uniformity of dude-bro-ness to cajole out. He’s forgotten his past to a large extent and in turn has left himself behind. The Christian of today is probably many of the things the Christian of old despised, but we’ve all changed ourselves on some level after rejection. Breaking up with his long-term girlfriend impacted him irrevocably. The false impression that the right girl only wants muscle-bound, business-track oriented guys took hold.
I love the moment of clarity when Christian, Mara, and Wyatt are together talking about their favorite things and this successful, attractive woman gleefully admits her adoration for Isaac Asimov and The Lord of the Rings. She’s the perfect complement for Christian and perhaps has seen through the façade so many of his co-workers are exposed as hating because she’s as in to him as he is her. Some of this stems from his awkwardness—glibly imploding when the moment calls for a kiss, verbally and physically. It’s impossible to hide his insecurities when under pressure. He’s constantly at risk of bailing, beholden to self-help cassette tapes propelling him forward. A crutch in itself, learning whose voice is speaking through his ear-buds makes matters even more desperate.
Christian only escapes this artificial limbo when with Wyatt goofing around. I mean literally putting blankets over their heads and bumping into each other as though they are blobs. These guys are lame in the most fantastic fashion—unafraid to break down their fears and stand tall to have fun without societal handicapping. When they’re stripped of their existential struggles, even Wyatt finds the notion of apocalyptic war absent from his mind. But while Christian’s internal lies are damning to his wellbeing, Wyatt’s can potentially harm others. To reject the idea he may be mentally unstable is to begin the war he’s ready to fight. And while he wants nothing more than to save Christian from replacement, Christian 2.0 is so different that he may be too late.
Blackshear therefore takes the idea of worldwide chaos and distills it into the apartment of two close friends. Outwardly they are mere shadows of their former selves and thus at risk of leaving the other behind. They do things the other could use as grounds to give up and walk away, believing all hope lost. But somehow they move past such actions as well as debilitating personal tragedy to reach a point where they can be heroes for each other. Trust becomes paramount as the projections leading them off their own respective cliffs start pointing fingers to justify a wholesale purge of negativity and the unknown. The climax delivers the truth in all its implausible (or fictitious) glory, forcing Christian and Wyatt to choose who’s most important.
Both Andrews and Dumouchel excel through this dynamic, selfless to a fault when it comes to the other despite being ruthless otherwise (sometimes to their own ignorance). There’s a genuine rapport that’s necessary to understand the stakes of what they’re considering doing for the other. These new lives they’ve dove into carry life or death choices—real or not. They are real to them and going against that supposed rationality could be the end of everything. Taking a chance on each other is crucial to doing so for themselves. Christian needs to accept Wyatt’s belief if only because he believes it. And Wyatt conversely must accept the Christian he knows exists beneath this new exterior. Only when this occurs can they acknowledge they still control their own destiny.