It’s a step forward for the found footage genre to acknowledge that someone has to make editing decisions to turn hours of B-roll and security-cam into a horror film. They’re Inside is cunning enough to play a few tricks with that — the insertion of nature footage of a cheetah stalking a rabbit to Vivaldi into scenes of unwary characters being set up for axe kills comes across as pretentious, but a throwaway line reveals that this is an idea imposed on the film by the masked sociopath (Matthew Peschio, voiced by MacLeod Andrews) who is ‘directing’ and resisted by the victim being forced to edit the whole thing. That the story is shaped in the edit to cast suspicion on handy red herrings or even a supernatural explanation is raised in the dialogue, and even the fact that one of the killers – a masked cutie-pie (Alex Rinehart) – at once overdoes her act and has copped it from The Strangers seems more a failure of the banal monster than of the film.
After a prologue in which an inept vlogger (Louie Chapman) meets a nasty, blurry fate – he admits he’s taking a cooking course because he doesn’t know what to do with a knife just before the crazy woman leaps into frame with ‘but I do’ – we get a simple set-up that becomes complicated as attention is drawn to timecodes, camera idents, and some flash-forwards to post-production. Writer-director Robin (Karli Hall – very striking and likely to be seen in more indie-type dramas) has won a contest to secure a remote woodland home as location for her first feature, bringing along her sister Cody (Amanda Kathleen Ward) to shoot a making-of … though there’s a simmering resentment in that Robin has written an autobiographical script (Lovers’ Weekend) that hinges on family history, and in effect made the story of her sister’s abuse all about her. On the minimal crew are DOP Doug (Jake Ferree) and actors Aaron (Sascha Ghafoor), who can’t pronounce ‘ceramic’, and Joanna (Chelsea D. Miller) … while Robin’s husband Max (Schuyler Brumley, who co-scripted) is suspciously absent.
Not much progress is made on Lovers’ Weekend thanks to familiar issues – a car sabotaged, phone lines that go dead, weird axe-chopping in the night, sinister callers in the middle of shooting, a rock thrown through the window with a quote from Alfred Hitchcock wrapped around it. Things take a slasher turn, with the camera sometimes picked up by the stalkers, fairly extreme old-school gore effects, occasional visits to the closed-off portion of the house, and a climactic emotionally/physically harrowing long take that harks back to the torture porn cycle (with, in one case, an instance of literally naked terror).
Directed by co-writer John-Paul Panelli, this takes an unusual approach to what is in the end the usual snuff movie scenario – requiring the viewer to pay a lot more attention to tiny details to sort out what’s actually going on, and even leaving key scenes off camera to be inferred by the audience. It’s self-aware enough to suggest close study of several sub-genres – but at some point the fact that we’re watching an auteur work by a masked madman isn’t enough to take the edge off its downer aspects. ‘The Man’ gives some thought to how an audience will react – and has taken his cues from Robin’s own filmmaker manifesto, who credibly runs on over a few pages of waffle before making that ‘be careful what you wish for’ statement that pain can be beautiful – but isn’t interested in catharsis … and finally delivers an ending no one would want, reflecting the sort of downer misanthropy commonplace in the genre about ten years ago. Again, that could be the villain’s fault rather than the film’s – but Hitchcock (and the killer’s other fave director, Alexander Payne) would have a better idea of how to present a big finish.