Flip through a few recent Best of Horror collections at random, and you’re likely to hit a healthy smattering of Laird Barron. Barron, who sets many of his stories in the Northwest, is a ferocious talent, specializing in an upsetting, lysergic melding of two-fisted adventure scenarios and slithering Lovecraftian remnants. They Remain, the first filmed take on the author’s work, manages to replicate a gratifying amount of that distinctive vibe, infusing the story with large doses of free-form agoraphobic anxiety. It lingers.
Adapting Barron’s novella -30-, the plot follows a pair of researchers (William Jackson Harper and Rebecca Henderson) conducting long-term environmental research on a remote, instrument-confounding patch of wilderness. The fact that the land once housed a Manson-like death cult may account for at least a few of the bumps in the night.
Writer/director Philip Gelatt makes the most of the deliberately sparse narrative, quickly establishing a shuddery contrast between the high-tech Habitrail interiors and the unsettlingly wide-open surroundings. The mounting feeling of offness is only enhanced by the prickly byplay between the performers, a pulsingly atonal score, and especially the camerawork of Sean Kirby, who brings a sense of tactile unpleasantness to every leaf, rock, and shadow to be named later.
Creeping malevolence can be easy to overdo, and They Remain does occasionally get high on its own supply, with a second act that features a few too many scenes of the characters just tromping slowly through the woods. Still, there’s an awful a lot for horror fans to savor here, culminating in the final minutes, which go from ominous to overt with a jarring, destined-to-be-rewound suddenness. After this and Annihilation, the Great Outdoors definitely needs a new agent.
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