Directed by Abel Vang & Vurlee Vang.
Starring Michelle Krusiec, Ken Kirby, Madelyn Grace.
Horror, US, 123 minutes.


Streaming on Shudder from 17th February


Is there a rule on calling a ghost story lifeless? Maybe it is an obvious cliché but this is a very obvious film. Mistaking a premise for plot THEY LIVE IN THE GREY follows bereaved mother and social worker Clare as she investigates the case of a family and the issues raised by the young daughter. It soon becomes apparent that instead of neglect or abuse there may be a more sinister explanation at play, one that only Clare can deal with due to a talent she has acquired for communicating with the dead.


For two hours the film flits between a number of timelines; the present, where Clare is helping the family, the past where she is mourning the death of her son and becoming estranged from her policeman husband. Sprinkled among these alternate timelines we get further flashbacks to Clare’s life as a loving mother. The point of these flashbacks is purely expositional, adding nothing to the films pace nor giving it any spark or creative invention. Added to this is the complete lack of plot to drive us through the lengthy running time. Because of this complete lack of storytelling skill from the script and direction the one hundred and twenty-three minutes it takes to watch this film somehow start to have a time stretching effect on the viewer; what feels like half an hour of running time onscreen equates to only five minutes in the real world when you check your watch.


Repetitiveness is also a problem that is all too apparent here. Between her visits to the family, Clare bumps into other ghosts so regularly that it soon becomes a laughable spectacle every time she turns a corner and runs into one spectral figure after another who are annoyed at the fact that they are no longer in the land of the living. The point of these encounters happening so often is non-existent as not one of these scenes impact the wafer-thin plot or and even thinner character development.


One of the very few aspects that impresses is a long scene without cuts where Clare and her husband argue over her grief at the dining room table showing that at least the cast turn in competent enough performances that prove their professionalism. Despite this, the lack of creativity is what shines through the most. Whether it is the cheap and flat digital cinematography that has zero atmosphere, further exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the film takes place during daytime with the sun shining through every window, or the complete lack of understanding into what makes a ghost story work, THEY LIVE IN THE GREY is sadly a failure on nearly every level.


Even for Shudder subscribers who may have exhausted their viewing options on the service there is nothing to recommend here, even once the ill thought out “twist” comes into play here.


Iain MacLeod.


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