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Thriller 'They Remain' revels in its subdued weirdness

Thriller 'They Remain' revels in its subdued weirdness
William Jackson Harper in the movie "They Remain." (Paladin)

Like Alex Garland's recent science-fiction/horror film "Annihilation," writer-director Philip Gelatt's "They Remain" adapts the work of a writer who blends brainy realism and surreal fantasy, in a way sometimes dubbed "the new weird." Gelatt takes on Laird Barron's short story "-30-," and as with Garland's big-screen version of Jeff VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" novels, "They Remain" explores a spookily transformed wilderness.

Rebecca Henderson and William Jackson Harper play Jessica and Keith, scientists and occasional lovers assigned by a mysterious paramilitary organization to gather data in a woodland region where a cult recently committed multiple murders. Their big question: Does this place hold some occult power that drives its inhabitants violently mad?

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"They Remain" stays mired in and around one campsite, watching Jessica and Keith as they experience strange visions and turn on each other. Working with a micro-budget, Gelatt relies heavily on cinematographer Sean Kirby's saturated colors, composer Tom Keohane's minimalist drone, and Harper and Henderson's nuanced performances to create a sense of creeping dread.

The results may frustrate anyone looking for definitive answers about what's going on and why — or even viewers who just want to see something freaky and terrifying. This movie remains subtle throughout, emphasizing the tenuousness of reality and the unmooring isolation of the bush.

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But as with much of "the new weird" genre, "They Remain" does what it means to do. It makes the natural feel threateningly alien.

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‘They Remain’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

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Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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