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They Are Among Us (2003)
Director: Jeffrey Obrow

review by Alasdair Stuart

Ever since Kevin McCarthy ran down the middle of a motorway yelling "They're here! You're next! You're next!" at the end of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Hollywood has been fascinated by the idea of aliens among us. Creatures that look like us, act like us and sound like us are not only a fascinating and very creepy premise, they're also the perfect choice for filmmakers producing science fiction on a budget.

Which is not to do They Are Among Us a disservice because it's consistently inventive, playing with a lot of the stereotypes of the genre to great effect. In fact, one of its most effective moments is in the opening credits, a montage of shots of teenagers sitting in front of their mirrors rehearsing different emotions. It's understated and extremely creepy and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

It focuses on Daniel; a high school student (with loving if slightly eccentric parents) that, along with his friends, is about to graduate. They live in a great town, have a fantastic relationship and Daniel's life is as close to ideal as it's possible to get. Inevitably, this doesn't last. The gradual build up of tension is dealt with superbly, as Daniel finds something odd hidden in his parents' house, something tears apart a vagrant, and Finlay (Alison Eastwood), the strange young blonde woman who lives in a mobile home on the outskirts of town begins to realise exactly what's going on. It's smart, extremely creepy and for the most part very effective.

It's helped no end by the performances, in particular Bruce Boxleitner (Babylon 5) and Nana Visitor (Star Trek: DS9) as Daniel's parents. They're funny, eccentric and don't quite fit, giving the film a subtle sense of disquiet even before the plot moves into gear. Ironically, we get much of the information we need to know from them as they fight to keep their son away from the town's darkest secret and it really raises the tension in all their scenes. You spend much of the film unsure whether they're on Daniel's side or working against him or even whether they're human. Likewise, Michael DiLallo as Daniel himself is impressive, bringing an unusual calm to the role, even during the film's more fantastic moments.

Inevitably it doesn't all go as well. The script tries to be ambiguous about exactly what the creatures are with only partial success whilst some of the special effects in the latter half make the small budget painfully apparent. Similarly, the script after battling so effectively against stereotype finally succumbs in the final 20 minutes and does so spectacularly. When this hits B-movie territory, it hits it hard and the line "Get away from me you alien whore!" is delivered with almost gleeful enthusiasm.

Despite these failings, They Are Among Us works hard with almost no budget, is filled with some great performances, some great ideas and has the courage to end in a very unexpected place. It's not high art by any stretch of the imagination but it is entertaining.
They Are Among Us

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