What kind of movie-goer are you? Do you like the setup or the payoff? If you’re a fan of the former and are looking for 1 hour and 40 minutes of that, then I have a sweet suggestion for you: Philip Gelatt’s third feature film, They Remain, follows two scientists, Keith (William Jackson Harper) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson), as they conduct research on behalf of a mystery corporation that has sent them to an eerie part of the woods. This area, as we (very, very) slowly learn, was inhabited by a murderous cult. Eventually, whether it’s due to some supernatural power or sheer isolation, both members of the team go crazy.

Sean Kirby’s cinematography work is great, adding suspense to lifeless scenes with off-putting framing and unconventional technique. Meanwhile, Tom Keohane’s score capably sets the tone with its glitchy, string-heavy style. Unfortunately, though, the score ultimately falls into the same trap as the rest of the movie—it grows boring and repetitive.

You can only string so many “suspenseful” scenes that lead nowhere together before you lose an audience. The first 30 minutes are slow, but they are obviously building tension and leading to something. And though the early acts are genuinely intriguing and full of possible avenues the movie could have explored, those 30 minutes of setup turn into 40 minutes and then 50 and then an hour as the suspense dissipates. I stopped caring.
That’s the main problem with this film—nothing seems important. There’s hardly any attempt at building the characters, and even when there is, the dialogue feels forced, clunky and unintentionally hilarious. In one scene, Jessica says, “Look at you, you’re weak as a kitten,” to which Keith replies, “Don’t worry about me. I’m as fit as a farm hand.” Like, what?! Who talks like that? It’s just so weird. That, along with the fact that the last 40 minutes of the film, are an incongruous mix of fever dreams and reality, results in an uneventful story with an unimportant ending.
While the film captures the mood of anxious paranoia really well, it never makes an effort to progress beyond that, and we’re just left with what seems like a half-baked idea that’s twice as long as it should be.

+Captivating cinematography; neat score
-Slow pace; undeveloped characters

They Remain
Directed by Gelatt
With Harper and Henderson
Jean Cocteau Cinema, R, 102 min.