THEY’RE INSIDE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JOHN-PAUL PANELLI / SCREENPLAY: SCHUYLER BRUMLEY, JOHN-PAUL PANELLI / STARRING: KARLI HALL, AMANDA KATHLEEN WARD, SASCHA GHAFOOR, CHELSEA D. MILLER, JAKE FERREE / RELEASE DATE: JULY 16TH
Both independent and mainstream filmmakers find themselves returning to the theme of 'home invasion' time and again precisely because it plays on popular anxieties about vulnerability and crime so effectively. For those working on a tight budget, the threat of unseen intruders targeting guileless homeowners is a thriller-horror narrative which can be executed quite cheaply on-screen.
The script for new indie thriller They’re Inside takes this premise and adds in some creepy elements of 'freak' horror. But what’s most notable about the story is the attention that it pays to voyeurism as a key component of the act of stalking. The film has a preoccupation with the camera’s role as an observer and a chronicler of the lives of others.
The narrative of They’re Inside has several different layers, but they’re all focused on the idea of individuals recording and then watching back sounds and images that they’ve caught through a lens. The movie blends film-within-a-film and found footage, surveillance camera and other ‘real life’ digital audio-visual material to present a story which continually interrupts the flow of the narrative to jolt the viewer into realising they are complicit in the act of watching. And the intrusive act of surveillance is, in the context of They’re Inside, seen to be something pretty questionable.
The plot centres on the work of a small film crew who have installed themselves in a rented house in the country to shoot an intimate biographical study. Over the course of five days, director Robin and her crew work through a heavily improvised script which focuses on unsettling and traumatic episodes from Robin’s childhood and that of her sister (and on-set gopher) Cody. Yet, as the camera reveals the behind the scenes relationships among the small team, it also begins to show the visitors being tracked and menaced by a strange (and clearly psychopathic) couple.
As the threats to the filmmakers intensify, They’re Inside becomes increasingly gruesome and gory. There are several emotionally disturbing scenes amidst the hack and slash bloodletting. While the fleeing survivors make the requisite dumb decisions required by the subgenre, what unfolds is far from the usual catch and kill. Intercut footage pulls the narrative back and forth through the timeline, flips the viewpoint between different observers and occasionally drifts towards the surreal. This makes for a jarring, disconnected viewing experience, which does seem to be director Panelli’s implicit intention.
This is bold, unusual horror filmmaking in which the knife-wielding maniacs are not the stars but are the threat that allows the pressure to be piled on the film’s vulnerable protagonists, who are the real centre of attention. As the body count rises, the film’s ambitions stretch further into the realm of the “metatextual.” But while the producers’ fascination with the idea of “people watching people” is not in doubt, it’s much less clear exactly what their contention about the 'act of seeing' and of 'being seen' might be.