From Within (2008)
Dir. Phedon Papamichael Jr.
Written by Brad Keene
Starring Thomas Dekker, Elizabeth Rice, Rumer Willis, Adam Goldberg, Jared Harris
This is a nicely assembled little horror film which takes elements from other horror movies (Doppelgangers from THE ABANDONED, inexplicable suicides from THE HAPPENING, psychopathic Evangelicals from JESUS CAMP, attractive misunderstood supernatural teenage outcasts from everything) and does nothing particularly innovative with them, but still manages to be worth your time by virtue of generally not bungling a good thing.
It starts, like so many great horror movies do, with Rumer Willis. She’s kicking it with this tubby Jack White looking dude who blows his brains out, and next thing you know she’s offed herself, too. But when her dad Jared Harris (briefly stopping in on his way to the next movie set) also kicks off, the town’s stereotypical evangelical lynch mob types start to get a little suspicious of the local broody dreamy misunderstood mystery outcast (Thomas Dekker, Fievel Mousekewitz in AMERICAN TAILS III-IV, Littlefoot in LAND BEFORE TIME V-IX… man, this guy is the Larry Drake of Don Bluth DTV cartoon sequels). Stepping into this powderkeg waiting to go off in an explosion of cliches is Elizabeth Rice (Boy #1, Kid #2 in DIGIMON: THE MOVIE) who is some girl who seems to know everyone, I don’t know. Anyway, turns out people keep seeing mysterious doppelgangers who compel them to commit suicide in some impressively gristly ways (the lady who drinks a bottle of drano is a personal favorite, although the movie disappointingly avoids anything too gimmicky.) Turns out there’s a curse or something, they need to resolve it using magic.
|I'm going to let you guess who is the dreamy sensitive misunderstood outcast and who is the murderous Jesus freak.|
So the plot’s pretty standard for this type of thing, but like a number of these “After Dark Horrorfest” deals it’s done with surprising competence and even the occasional flash of artistry. The cinematography looks great, for one thing; I know, all these Platinum Dunes remakes look pretty and shiny now, but this one is different, it has real careful framing and a well-considered palette to subtly evoke atmosphere and tone. Turns out that although this guy Phedon Papamichael (he’s Greek, not Thai as I first assumed) is not too well known as a director, he’s been DP on a ton of great movies, including POISON IVY and BIO-DOME*. He knows how to get the most from his locations and his death scenes, which serves him well here. Surprisingly, he also does a fine job with the actors, getting solid, textured work from everyone (even, and maybe especially, the villains). Although they’re all nakedly shameless tropes, they don’t come off that way at all. Even the unlikable ones end up feeling nuanced and truthful**. And hey, Adam Goldberg gets to have his Keanu Reeves in THE GIFT guy-you-wouldn’t-expect-to-play-a-scary-redneck-asshole-but-is-actually-pretty-good moment.
FROM WITHIN is probably too pat and derivative to really fawn over, but it’s a respectable enough attempt, and easily in the top tier for After Dark Horrorfest. Its theme --which I guess is about identity?-- is a little muddled, but its direction is crisp, its scare scenes effective, its acting a cut above, and overall there’s plenty to like. Just be sure it’s really you enjoying it, and not your evil doppelganger trying to bring you down.
*I’m making fun, but he has also worked with Oliver Stone (W), George Clooney (IDES OF MARCH), Gore Verbinksi (THE WEATHER MAN), Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS, DESCENDANTS) and Wim Wenders (THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL). So he’s the real deal.
**special high-five to Margo Harshman (THE EVEN STEVEN MOVIE?) who plays broody dreamboat’s snarky cousin. She’s an antagonistic character narratively speaking, but she heroically packs her performance with a mix of pathos and great character moments. There’s a scene where our attractive protagonists are moaning about whatever are they going to do about this curse, and she’s sitting in the background, passive aggressively playing horror movie chords on the piano. I love it.