[Review] They're Inside

I said in my review of The 16th Episode that maybe found footage was dead. That maybe the gimmick is a horse that has been summarily beaten and needs to be put out of its misery. I think it’s important to note, again, that found footage is my least favorite of the horror subgenres (or filmmaking style, if that’s more appropriate). With few exceptions, like last year’s Gonjiam and the original Hell House LLC, it’s a format that I find filled with hokey acting, terrible cinematography, a formula that was stale by the time the Blair Witch Project ripoffs were first released. They just don’t appeal to me. So when I discovered that They’re Inside is a found footage-styled film, I sighed heavily.

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It begins with a YouTuber named Louie (Louie Chapman), who’s busy doing an ever popular Q&A video to celebrate the New Year. But as he’s going through the questions, he doesn’t notice the two figures standing outside his window. They’re dressed in black and wearing cartoony masks. The Man (Matthew Peschio) wear a semi normal looking brown haired mask, but The Woman’s (Alex Rinehart) mask has those anime-styled large doe eyes that gives her costume a sinister edge.

The killers somehow get inside Louie’s house and stab him to death, only pausing long enough for The Man to grab Louie’s camera and say “action,” before The Woman stabs him one final time.

“Can we watch it?” The Woman sweetly asks.

After this abrupt cold open, we’re introduced to our main characters, who’ve been given an amazing opportunity to film their drama in a house up in the mountains. The house is naturally mostly isolated with no internet, spotty service and a single landline phone. Robin (Karli Hall) fancies herself a director who has written a very personal movie about her baby sister Cody (Amanda Kathleen Ward) and herself. Together, with an actor named Aaron (Sascha Ghafoor), an actress named Joanna (Chelsea D. Miller) and their childhood friend Doug (Jake Ferree), their plan is to film in their benefactor’s home for the weekend.

The two sisters are at odds almost immediately and you can tell there’s some deep-seated issues they need to work out and the other three people are sort of roped into their therapeutic (?) project. But things start to get weird, fast. Someone is chopping wood late at night. A woman does the whole The Strangers thing and knocks on the door before walking away with an aimless gait. And what’s in the locked room at the top of the stairs? And why does the chopping sounds get closer and closer each night…

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They’re Inside is filled to the brim with all of the found footage tropes you’d expect. Hammy acting and scene chewing. Hokey moments when the actors’ ability to project fear can’t compete with the terror they are supposed to feel. Characters holding the camera when it becomes inconceivable that a normal person would. But it also gets hit with the home invasion tropes, such as mask-wearing killers, creepy sounds, slow burn paranoia that finally turns into violence, etc.

That said, there’s a playful inventiveness here, thanks mostly to an intriguing script by Schuyler Brumley and John-Paul Panelli (also the director). Interspersed with the footage of Robin and her friends are these weird interludes, like a leopard stalking a rabbit or shots of Robin talking to some unknown person that seems wholly divorced from the movie we’re watching. And there’s the matter of the footage from cameras stationed around the house. Each day is introduced to us with title cards and a burst of classical music. It’s theatrical and oftentimes tongue-in-cheek, even when the subject matter is incredibly nihilistic. It also keeps the viewer off-kilter and creates an intriguing mystery of what exactly is going on.

And while most of the filmmaking is standard Found Footage 101, the ending sequence is a stationary long take that is as vicious as it is bloody. And the denouement colors the preceding 80 minutes in a different light that was unexpected in a lot of ways. While it might not have completely changed my mind on the subgenre—I still think it’s past its prime—They’re Inside proves that there’s still some life left in this horse.