Directed by: John-Paul Panelli
Run time: 83 minutes
The Lowdown: True story, The Strangers, in my humble opinion, is the absolute best home invasion thriller ever made.
Since it’s debut 11 years ago in 2008, many, many films have tried to emulate and/or replicate Bryan Bertino’s masterpiece.
A few have succeeded in reaching the same heights, but none to date have surpassed it.
Part of what made The Strangers so damn effective was its simplicity. You’ve got a man and a woman, deeply in love but struggling mightily to resurrect their spark. And you’ve got three faceless killers who target them for a night of terror and torment just because they were home. That’s it.
They’re Inside, the debut feature from director/co-writer John-Paul Panelli, is very reminiscent of The Strangers in many ways.
You’ve got a group of young people staying in an isolated location while they make a movie, and a trio of masked killers who target them seemingly, at least early on, for no apparent reason.
They’re Inside opens with a YouTube influencer making a video to promote the fact that he’s just eclipsed four million subscribers. His celebration post ends in brutal fashion with a gory demise captured and broadcast while live-streaming.
Why did they target this particular person? No clue.
Next, we meet the film crew that’s gathered to shoot a deeply personal, autobiographical film for its director, Robin (Karli Hall). Robin’s sister, Cody (Amanda Kathleen Ward), is part of the crew. She’s also responsible for videoing segments for the inevitable DVD extras, which is They’re Inside’s excuse for large chunks of the film to be captured found-footage style.
Almost immediately, weird things happen. There are noises out in the dark woods surrounding the property. Doors left open that had been closed.
If anything, They’re Inside seems to be working overtime to establish its characters and properly set the scene, so much so that the first 30 minutes or so really drags.
Even more confusing, Panelli starts interspersing other scenes – flashbacks, flash-forwards, I’m not really sure – that don’t make a lot of sense, and only serve to undermine any momentum that’s been built to that point.
Then there’s the plot of Robin’s film, which basically centers around a moment in time when Robin confessed an awful secret to her then-boyfriend, now-husband, who is conspicuously absent from the set. The secret involves a terrible thing that happened to Cody. What Cody doesn’t know is that Robin was always aware that this terrible thing was happening, and to a large degree, was complicit in its happening.
Now, mind you, all of this has to be digested before the first creepy encounter with a creepy, random girl happens.
Taking a direct cue from The Strangers, Panelli has the girl knock on the door of the cabin where the crew is filming. And, just like in The Strangers, the creepy girl makes a nonsensical statement before disappearing into the night.
Unlike The Strangers, however, that pivotal moment doesn’t usher in a wave of crazy horror. It just folds into the long-running narrative, which is still centered on Robin and Cody and the bad memories that Robin’s film is forcing them to confront.
Before long, the entire narrative gets flipped, however, and suddenly the film crew is being secretly filmed by an unknown presence.
Even more confounding, Panelli starts splicing in scenes from a nature documentary about a rabbit and a large cat, maybe a cheetah, that’s hunting the rabbit in the wild. Of course, the film crew is the rabbit and the masked killers are the large cat.
But then, Panelli goes even further, throwing in more flashbacks or flash-forwards, each one showing Robin in distress and being forced and manipulated to do things she doesn’t want to do.
What does it all mean? No clue.
Finally, once the killings start, Panelli and his co-writer, Schuyler Brumley, throw in another huge twist that’s so far out in left field, so improbable, so poorly explained, that instead of serving as the jaw-dropping reveal they likely intended, it only makes you that much more confused.
Long story short, They’re Inside is basically a remake of The Strangers but with a lot more unnecessary baggage. It tries to stuff too many big ideas into what should have been a lean, mean and bloody home invasion thriller.
Just to be clear, this doesn't mean that it's a bad movie. It's not terrible, it's just overstuffed. Still, plenty of horror fans will likely love it, especially those that dig found-footage and home-invasion flicks.
But the takeaway here should be obvious:
If you’re making a horror movie, don’t overthink things. Keep it simple, stupid. Otherwise, your big scary movie, while well-intended, won’t have nearly the impact that you hope.
Also, no matter how much you love or were inspired by a movie from the past, it's never wise to essentially remake that movie unless you're going to make it better. Trust me, horror fans notice these things.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Chelsea D. Miller is smoking hot.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Whoever “they” are, when they get inside, you’re fucked.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2
The Fate of Lee Khan
American Beach House
Bikini Model Academy