Two biologists working for an anonymous corporation are dispatched to the former site of a Manson-type cult compound to investigate strange animal behavior in the area.
Keith (William Jackson Harper) thoroughly explores the acreage, setting up camera feeds to monitor the fauna. Jessica (Rebecca Henderson) examines the data trying to find anomalies.
This goes on for the majority of the movie, as we observe the scientific method gradually give way to something far older and more primitive.
As so often happens, the more time they spend at the accursed locale, the more things break down. Keith hears voices. Jessica hears knocking at the door. Keith chases a wolf. Keith and Jessica drink whiskey.
They Remain is a subdued film, and it helps if you’re in the mood for subtlety. Writer-director Philip Gelatt adapted Laird Barron’s 30 for the screenplay, and it’s told largely from Keith’s perspective, which gets less reliable as time rolls on.
“I trust everybody, just not people,” he says to Jessica during one of their Happy Hours.
Keith dutifully collects his data, but the more he ventures out into the silent forest the less confident, and more unmoored he becomes.
Jessica, who is white, is the obsessive one, and Keith, a black man, worries that she’s not telling him the truth about their situation. Though he’s an experienced woodsman, he finds that his senses aren’t much help when faced with something that doesn’t track like an average specimen.
In fact, we’re never quite certain who is observing whom in They Remain. Whether it’s ghosts, hallucinations, cave dwellers, or just the effects of isolation, the feeling of someone watching is quite inescapable.
In scene after scene, Gelatt’s camera finds Keith hunkered down in the bush, but he doesn’t blend into his surroundings at all. He’s nervous because he isn’t safe, and he can’t hide in what is rapidly shaping up to be a hostile environment.
That’s a scary position to be in. They Remain is a profoundly unsettling movie and a very effective one.