They Remain is a Daunting Movie to Explain

They Remain is a Daunting Movie to Explain - it took me three tries to wrap my brain around this movie but it wasn't for a lack of trying. They Remain is a cerebral film that gnaws at you until you succumb.
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OK, look – I’m doing this review under duress. So many people, over the past year or two, have mentioned this movie to me…over, and over, and over again. So, don’t consider this as a proper THiNC. recommendation, but more like a – “Dude, what are you collectively thinking” review. This movie, They Remain is a daunting movie to explain. Heck, it’s a truly daunting movie to understand, let alone explain!

Here at THiNC., I stood up a way for you guys to tell me about movies you’d like me to watch, and deconstruct (red tab at the bottom of this screen). And via that solution, They Remain has been, BY FAR, the single most posted movie that you guys would like me to discuss. Search for it. Oh, and that doesn’t even cover the emails you have sent me poking me in the eye – again -and again – and again – and again. And so, just to get you guys off my back, I’ve decided to talk about it! Here – HAVE A TRAILER DANGGGGIT.

Carlos was the most recent individual recommending I talk about this movie. So I sat down to write him a succinct “No”…that I didn’t have anything to say about it, but I kept writing and writing and writing. And by the time I was done I realized I had quite a lot to say apparently! hahah. So here I am Carlos, writing about your movie.

The first time someone recommended it, I watched about half of the movie, and then something else (paint drying?) in the other room caused me to walk away from the movie. The second time, I managed to watch it all the way through…but was 100% certain that I missed something extraordinarily important. So I watched it one more time. And this time, I watched it with notepad in hand and a magnifying glass to scour the background. I hunted for clues. And then, after that, I trawled the screenplay, which was even less helpful than the movie. So when I learned that the movie was based on a short story by Laird Barron, I put it on Interlibrary loan. Alright, with all that moaning and whining done, why don’t we do a quick walkthrough of this movie, and then do some conjecturing as to why it was so hard to wrap your (our collective) mind around.

They Remain Quick Walkthrough

The movie opens with the line – “You know how this is going to end.” Which, as far as foreshadowing goes, is a pretty intriguing opening. Two scientists have been shuttled down to earth. Their scientific exploration company has sent them to the surface in hopes that they would learn about this specific location, where past tragedies and atrocities have occured. But outside of that, we are kept in the dark as to what their mission, or their objectives are. Keith (played by William Jackson Harper of The Good Place, and Midsommar) seems like a skeptical, big company, employee that doesn’t exactly trust this current assignment. And Jessica (played by Rebecca Henderson from Russian Doll and Westworld) seems to understand that something bigger has happened at their camp site than just the need for “biological exploration”.

Their mission which was to last 3 months, (which, did I mention we have no idea what they are there to do?) begins to wear on them both. And similar to the story The Tell-Tale Heart, this place begins to eat at them from the inside out. There’s a heart thumping behind the bricks dangit! Keith and Jessica start hearing thumping on the wall of their enclosure, and noises coming from the forest that surrounds them. We also begin learning that this landing location happens to be the place of some sort of massive cultic ritualistic murder. So, are these all just coincidences, or is there something bigger going on here? These two actors, who manage fairly well considering what they’ve been given, are the ones carrying the drama and the tension on their shoulders solely. The further in we wander down this rabbit hole the more these two scientists begin to doubt their counterpart’s sanity.

I will say this – as far as closed box mindjobs go, the atmospherics here are glorious. The set consists of a geometric shaped tent, and a gorgeous stretch of woods. So yeah! Why wouldn’t I absolutely love this movie? I am the biggest defender of closed box movies out there. I love nothing more than two good actors, in a closed setting, and a really compelling script. But if I keep thinking I’m missing something, am I missing something, even though I’m not?

And the more I write, the more I realize that They Remain may just be a horror movie about the thing that isn’t there. Which, if you think about it, might be what I was missing. I was missing there was nothing to miss. It’s a horror movie that is making a monster out of absence of a monster. And it was only when I found this quote by Philip Gelatt, the writer and director of the film, that I realized I was on the correct track: “The specifics of the science I can’t say much about other than I wanted it to be all about this endless act of looking for something that is hard to find,” the director said. “On my part, the byword of the film is ambiguity, making the viewer pay attention and wonder what they are looking for.” AH! If that was the goal, holy crap man, you succeeded in SPADES!

The ending takes Keith and Jessica down a well worn path of insanity. You know, the kind…the Apocalypse Now, and Lord of the Flies sort of insanity. Visions, flash backs, prescient premonitions, and eerie destabilizing sounds. But ultimately, when the end drops, unless you were looking for nothing, you are going to find yourself saying…’what the heck did I just watch?’. No really, what was it that happened? Because unless you came in the door having read the short story, you were not going to see this one coming.

Final Thoughts on They Remain

I watched a movie the other day called Perfect, that was way way worse than They Remain. Looking back on it, I would argue there are many worse movies than They Remain. But if you are hoping for a movie in this same vein, i.e., small scale, few actors, crazy premise – but that actually delivered SOMETHING, I would try out The Night Eats the World, The Spring, I Am Mother, or maybe The Cured.

Edited by: CY