Shudder’s newest film, They Live in the Grey, is an exercise in audience patience. Running an often excruciating two hours in length, the premise feels stretched thin well before approaching the rather predictable conclusion. Most frustrating of all, in both its quieter moments and the brutality of the horror that peeks out, They Live in the Grey glimmers with promise. The cast is game for anything thrown their way, but a feet-dragging script lets them down at every turn.
Claire (Michelle Krusiec) is a case worker with a shadowy past of tragedy and heartbreak. When she takes on a new, unexplainable child abuse case, her powers come into play tenfold. Claire, like innumerable characters before her, has the gift of clairvoyance, allowing her to see those who have passed on. From the minute she meets this new family, Claire begins seeing strange things in their home. Their little girl, Sophie (Madelyn Grace, Don’t Breathe 2), has a scratch on her cheek that her mom claims was from falling off a skateboard. While interrogating Sophie, Claire gets her first taste of otherworldly activity in the home: a glass at the table noticeably moves without anyone touching it.
Aside from the lazy obviousness of its lead character’s name (the character Claire is literally clairvoyant, a laughable play on words), They Live in the Grey has an admirable setup. The cracks begin to show when one ventures outside this impressive approach to an Asian-American horror story. The only likable character here is Claire; the main family is more poorly written and thinly sketched-out than that Internet horse meme. Predictably, it is up to Claire to save the family from certain doom by utilizing her gifts to balance the scales in their favor. Will they be able to vanquish the threat, thereby proving the existence of an entity, and clear the parents’ name, suspected of neglect?
They Live in the Grey is written and directed by Burlee and Abel Vang, whose previous movie Bedeviled has been on my watchlist for quite some time. While I cannot speak for their other works, I definitely think They Live in the Grey would have drastically benefited from a couple extra screenplay drafts. The story feels scatterbrained, with the connections to the supernatural force, familial drama, and Claire’s past crossing over in less than satisfying fashion. Visually, there are several gory treats—I must note their impact is slightly diminished by the noticeable presence of CGI. The tease of sequel possibilities means we could see this story continue, and I would be intrigued to watch where it goes next. They Live in the Grey is a serviceable horror distraction, though I do think there are other legitimately great films on Shudder (Superhost, Spiral, Host, Vicious Fun, etc.) worthy of one’s time.
They Live in the Grey brings its bone-cracking brand of terror exclusively to Shudder on Thursday, February 17th.