"KEEP BUSTIN'."

There’s Someone Inside Your House

THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE (2021) is a horror movie that played Fantastic Fest this year and then came to Netflix. It’s a solid teen whodunit slasher very much in the post-SCREAM vein, but with some 2021 themes and concerns. I like that because it shows that this is a worthwhile format even when it’s not a remake, a sequel or a retro-styled throwback.

The title doesn’t describe the premise (unless in some poetic way that I’m not picking up on), but it does apply to a few of the suspense sequences, including the first one. It’s a SCREAM-like cold open but with a macho football player named Jackson (Markian Tarasiuk, CHRISTMAS JARS), talking to his friend on the phone and noticing odd things that make him think someone else is in the house. At first it’s things subtle enough to dismiss (what is this doing on the table?), but they escalate until he finds a trail of photos of himself punching someone bloody in a possibly homophobic bullying incident. Then he comes face to face with his killer – who is wearing a mask of his face. Yes, the killer wears 3D-printed masks of his victims, a technology invented by Darkman, but given new meaning here as the killer seems to want people to face their ugly selves. A very cool masked slasher gimmick because it has meaning, hasn’t really been done before, and looks creepy as fuck. Wouldn’t that freak you out even more than seeing Ghostface? As soon as you see it you know that you are the target and that some serious prep time has already gone into it.

There’s a wry bit of satire in that Jackson’s dying words – “This isn’t who I am, this isn’t me” – echo cliches we know from the hollow apologies of publicly exposed bigots. So at first there seems to be that sort of SAW thing where the killer is trying to make a judgmental point about his victims and you wonder if you’re supposed to sort of agree with him. The second victim is another asshole – student council president Katie (Sarah Dugdale, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON), who loves platitudes about tolerance but secretly does a white supremacist podcast. You wonder, should this be called CANCEL KILLTURE? And is this gonna turn into an “anti-fascism seems real nice at first but it can go too far” moral?

But we quickly learn that the killer’s kink is more broad than calling out prejudice – he just likes to reveal people’s dirty secrets. One character, Zach (Dale Whibley, Degrassi: The Next Generation) even throws a huge “Secret Party” where the theme is everyone confessing things to each other, trying to get ahead of the killer (possible homage to CHERRY FALLS having a huge orgy to thwart a killer targeting virgins). Zach is a rich kid who people are suspicious of because his dad (William MacDonald, PURE LUCK, HOLLOW MAN II), who he hates, notoriously buys out everyone’s farms and is ruining the town. Zach reveals that his dad’s secret is a huge collection of Nazi memorabilia and that his own secret is that he converted most of it to bongs. (I was not comfortable with how comfortable the kids were smoking from Nazi shit.)

In a change from those late ‘90s, early 2000s horror movies of the Dimension Films era, Zach is I believe the only straight white person in our central group of friends. The lead is Makani (Sydney Park, WISH UPON), who when she moved here was welcomed to their cafeteria table while other kids were calling her “Moana.” (Zach says that’s not even an insult because it’s a good movie). Alex (Asjha Cooper, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!) is Makani’s most militant friend, Rodrigo (Diego Josef, MESSAGE FROM THE KING) is shy and addicted to painkillers (a shitty secret to get murdered for), Darby (Jesse LaTourette, BOY ERASED) is either non-binary or trans and fortunately we don’t have to see any cruel bullying, but rather the great shame of being publicly name-dropped by someone seeking praise for tolerating Darby. Caleb (Burkely Duffield, PATHFINDER, WARCRAFT) is gay, which doesn’t stop him from playing on the football team, but he’s the guy who got beat up by Jackson, so people suspect he’s the killer and he takes refuge at the table too.

Like many of the modern slasher movies that work, this depends on a strong central performance and character. Makani fears not only the murders, but the potential revealing of her own dark secret. She harbors tremendous guilt for an incident that got her arrested and caused her to move here and live with her grandma (BJ Harrison, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES). She thinks if her friends found out her real last name and Googled her they wouldn’t like her anymore. So despite my joke earlier about being cancelled, this is very much a movie about forgiveness, redemption and looking at people as more than their past mistakes. A similar theme is explored much more profoundly in another recent Netflix horror release, Mike Flanagan’s 7-episode limited series Midnight Mass. Watching that, if you haven’t, is definitely a higher priority than this. But most things aren’t gonna be as good as that, so I won’t hold it against them.

SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH: There’s a very sweet moment after the killer has indeed broadcast Makani’s secret to everyone via mass-text-message (which sure seems to be a thing in horror movies these days). Worried of what her friends think of her now that they’ve read it, she learns that Darby actually stopped reading to instead hear it directly from Makani. As her friend, Darby wants to hear the full story from her perspective to understand it.

But even this group of friends are not 100% accepting and understanding of others. Makani has an off-and-on relationship with a kid named Ollie (Theodore Pellerin, BOY ERASED) who has a reputation of being “fucked up” and “a sociopath,” but completely without the James Dean bad boy glamour of, say, Rod in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or Billy in SCREAM. Makani gets back together with Ollie out of loneliness and realizes she really does care about him, but when they end up going to the “Secret Party” not only does she hide from her friends that she came with him, she doesn’t stand up for him or say anything when they insult him. Not cool at all.

I didn’t think about it while watching, but Makani has sex, and it does not doom her or have any negative consequences. It doesn’t even seem unhealthy at all. They might’ve put that in there to be sure they’re not following the “the virgin survives” thing pointed out in SCREAM, and if so I appreciate them not underlining it too much. It seems organic.

Director Patrick Brice is the guy who did CREEP and CREEP 2, which I currently have not seen, but I know plenty of people who like them. The screenplay is by Henry Gayden (EARTH TO ECHO, SHAZAM!), based on a 2017 book by Stephanie Perkins, who according to her bio is “a New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of books for teenagers and for adults with teenage hearts.” Judging from the plot summary on Wikipedia, the movie is faithful to a point, but the killer doesn’t have the same shtick or motive, which probly explains why the title seems a little off for the movie. She wrote another one called The Woods Are Always Watching that has a cover making it look like part of a series, but apparently if anything it’s a “companion” and not a sequel.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 22nd, 2021 at 9:59 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “There’s Someone Inside Your House”

  1. I liked this, pretty much for the same reasons you said. The slasher look and conceit were great, and the kills were pretty solid, and it was a nice and specific location, handsomely shot. I liked the farmhouses and other Sydney’s house, too. Character. Some decent suspense moments, and I wasn’t totally sure where they were going with the whodunit aspect. They kinda faked me out, got me overthinking it.

    Sydney Park as Makani was a great lead, and I really liked the way both she (especially) and Ollie communicated a lot through nonverbals. She really doesn’t talk a ton, so, you’re just with her a lot, and you get a sense of her as a somewhat guarded and hardened survivor who’s carrying pain. I liked the love story aspect in terms of their relationship — it was a very subtle, different kind of relationship the way they played.

    I like the diversity of the cast, but the way they handled it seemed a little bingo-y and on the nose. And I thought the “each of us was accepted into the college/thing of our dreams” denouement was trite and unnecessary. In general, the film struggled a bit to keep a consistent tone.

    But Makani, especially, and Ollie, secondarily, won me over. With assists from a cool and well-executed slasher component.

  2. I was sold at the slasher mask gimick. That’s so fucking cool

  3. A quick note to say that I think the Perkins book came out in 2017 and not 1997.

  4. Thanks Ben. Not sure how I did that.

  5. This was fine but lifeless. It started out fun and even vaguely satirical but devolved into a lot of mumbling and drama, especially for a movie that knew it was gonna climax with that ridiculous monologue. Somehow this supposedly intelligent take on the slasher film has a less believable motivation for its killer than nearly anything made from the slapdash golden era. SPOILER: I killed a bunch of my friends and some enemies and also my dad because you are hypocrites and also everybody hates me because I’m rich… What?

    I feel like the era of movies is going to seem pretty hilarious in a few years after we’ve learned better, less ham-handed-as-fuck ways of introducing social justice themes into film. We’re gonna look at this era like it’s that After School Special where Helen Hunt does PCP and jumps out the window.

    Also I truly don’t think I’d recognize my own face if the killer showed up wearing it, at least not in the style of mask depicted here. All the masks just look like a blank, generic human face. That’s why the Captain Kirk mask works in HALLOWEEN, and it’s a creepy effect, but the fact that they had to keep explaining it kind of shows that the doppelgänger thing doesn’t really come off visually.

  6. Yeah, Majestyk, when Caleb got invited over to their lunch table, I was half-expecting someone to say, “We don’t have a gay guy yet.” Facepalm. And then when the killer is revealed to be ***SPOILER*** the only white (presumably cis/hetero) male in their lunch bunch, it’s just a little too much. We get it. However, I thought Makani and Ollie were solid enough that I could look past the clumsiness of how their lunch bunch was handled overall. I also thought maybe there was some interesting inadverent social critique going on in the irony that this mostly rainbow coalition of marginalized people*** is actively excluding Ollie from the outside for no particularly good reason except that he’s a bit of a weirdo. In general, the social commentary aspect was uneven — often painfully on the nose, but then at other places it seemed a bit more nuanced, but I couldn’t tell if the nuance was just on accident. And then, where I mentioned above that I was faked out as to the bad guy, I was only faked out because I thought they might do something more subervisive and interesting than ***SPOILERS*** just make rebel Richie Rich / Donald Trump, Jr. the bad guy. But no, they went with Richie Rich as bad guy. So, maybe I gave them too much credit.

    Still and all, Makani and Ollie for president/power couple, and I did like the slasher and especially the chapel kill was fun.

    ***(who don’t seem all that marginalized in terms of academics/career)

  7. The self-consciously diverse casting didn’t bother me at all. Pokemon-style “Gotta collect ’em all” casting is a staple of the slasher genre, and it is certainly better to utilize that trope for actual human demographics rather than older slasher that were like, “We need a skate punk, a goth girl, a head cheerleader, a science nerd, and a hippie,” regardless of whether or not any of these people would ever be caught in the same room together.

    Also, I cannot cosign with you on this Makani/Ollie business. They were the major source of the drama and mumbling. I honestly couldn’t make out like two-thirds of what that dude had to say and I really don’t think I missed anything.

    I did appreciate that they seem to be bringing back one of my favorite ingredients that’s been missing from slasher movies for the past 20 years or so: ridiculous, instantly dated outfits that no human being would ever actually wear. Some of the shirts these kids were wearing looked like they were late for their shift at the Dippin Dots and forgot their visor.

  8. For me, it wasn’t just the casting but the way it so aggressively tried to show that it was serious about all manner of issues (e.g., fentanyl addiction, hazing) and standing with every opressed person, the more it just felt like shallow, scattergun pandering. I liked it for the Makana-Ollie relationship and then the cool slash stuff, but these felt like they belonged in two completely different movies. Their relationship had an A24 / IT FOLLOWS feel, the SLASH stuff has more a SCREAM feel, and then group stuff felt either mopey and MY SO-CALLED LIFEY (when it was just the main crew) or like VERONICA MARS and every late-90s/early-aughts teen comedy/slasher film. But the parts that worked make it worth a stream in my book.

    A typical slasher will work with tropey characters, but usually for humorous high-jinks purposes or just to give us a mix of personalities to interact. Usually, we get a mix of personalities sampled from the mean-kind, over-undersexed, cool-dork spectrum. In contrast, this film’s main characters are fairly humorless, and their personalities seem to fuse with their “otherness” status almost to the point of being stereotypes. But then the surrounding, non-core students intermittently give us comic relief that feels like it belongs in a whole other movie. And then when Makana and Ollie are alone, it feelsl like a whole other movie still — one that has sparks of the confidence of an IT FOLLOWS. Better slasher movies tend to keep a more consistent or well-defined tone, whereas this one was pretty herky-jerky.

    Anyway, not surprised you didn’t like the Makana-Ollie stuff, as it was the most “A24” of the film, and, hence, tied with the slashing as my favorite part. Worth it for either element alone in my book.

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