Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2006 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // February 26th, 2008
"Two parents believing in their son is not shock. It's love."
See the young stars of Heroes and Gossip Girl in their most shocking roles ever. Alex and Josie are skilled at breaking into houses. Alex's main hobby appears to be lurking in the hallways of strangers' houses while they are at home. He doesn't steal anything but Josie does and she does it well. Are Alex and Josie recruits in a domestic spying service? Are teen bloggers so hard up for material they're looking to other people's boring lives for something to say? Unfortunately, Inside addresses none of these questions. It's a story about crazy adults.
When Alex (Nicholas D'Agosto, Rocket Science) isn't working at the library, he spends his time spying on strangers. Some nights he'll enter their homes and stealthily observe their everyday activities. He doesn't steal anything and he doesn't get any erotic voyeuristic charge from his hobby. Alex just wants to watch families going about their daily lives. Clearly, this kid has issues, but he's not alone. Josie (Leighton Meester, Gossip Girl) is the free-spirited girl who shares Alex's penchant for domestic spying. Her ninja skills are so good she can even out-sneak the sneaky Alex. They'd probably have a good time together if Alex wasn't so emotionally shut off.
Alice (Cheryl White, The Book of Daniel) and Mark (Kevin Kilner, One Tree Hill) have been repeatedly borrowing the same book from Alex's library for the past year. Intrigued by their behavior, and sensing a deep sadness in them, Alex follows the couple home hoping to find out more. When he's caught spying on them, Alex is invited to stay. Alice and Mark have lost their son and Alex bears a striking resemblance to him. Furthermore, Alice correctly intuits that Alex's parents are also dead. Now that these three despairing souls have found each other, they could start a support group and find the collective strength to deal with their grief. But instead, they go completely mental. When Alex is injured in a car accident, the couple decides to nurse him back to health in their home. Convinced that their son has returned from the grave -- he just needs to be "reminded" of who he really is -- Alice and Mark take measures to ensure Alex never leaves them.
Inside is a competent but unmemorable feature debut from writer-director-producer Jeff Mahler. The movie begins with an intriguing idea -- kids who get a kick out of sneaking into strangers' homes -- but the story quickly settles into the situation of the insane, grieving parents and drops in so many convenient plot developments that it draws attention to the plausibility of the events we're seeing. For example, the car accident that incapacitates Alex happens off screen, opening the possibility that Alice and Mark may have orchestrated it or perhaps that everything happening afterwards is just a dream. The former is never raised and, thankfully, the story doesn't cheap out with the latter either. But the movie's credibility remains under a cloud of suspicion throughout and isn't helped by Alex's timely and unconvincing accidents.
Other details work against the believability of the story. How can Alice and Mark hide the fact of their son's death for an entire year? For that matter, how (and why) does Alex hide his parents' death from his co-workers? If some of the story's shortcomings raise eyebrows, other details raise chuckles. There's a scene where Alice forces Alex to watch a video repeatedly for four days. The machine, plainly visible, is a VCR but at the push of a button the video immediately restarts from the beginning. With such progresses in video tape technology, who needs DVD?
Nicholas D'Agosto puts in a one-dimensional performance that prevents us from sympathizing with his character. Alex is a stiff and emotionally closed character. Whether he's plotting his escape or experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, you can't tell what is going on in his head until he speaks his lines. Possibly the most unbelievable scene involves Alice quizzing Alex on that video he's eventually forced to watch. It was her son's favorite movie and she's waiting for Alex to remember that fact. It's the same movie they watched together last week, and he says that he's seen it numerous times before, but he can't remember the name of it. As I was watching this scene, I wasn't sure if Alex was toying with Alice or if he really couldn't remember the title of the movie. How can we relate with a character who can't remember the name of the movie he watched the week before?
Leighton Meester adds a little bit of lively energy to the movie as the spunky Josie. We know she's spunky because she makes it a point to swear in each of her scenes (and each time she drops the F-bomb it sounds like she's saying it for the first time in her life). Her scenes seem completely superfluous to the movie until the final act when her link to the small world of the story is revealed.
Cheryl White gets the meatiest part as the mentally unbalanced Alice. The sadness and misplaced hope she conveys so well early in the movie is quickly undone by her transformation into the psychotic mom (a sickly sweet version of the one from Carrie). It's like she's moved into a horror movie without telling the rest of the cast. White clearly has more range so it's unfortunately and ridiculous when she's reduced to expressing herself by smashing glassware.
As the conflicted husband Mark, Kevin Kilner gives the most nuanced performance here. Torn between his rational acceptance of their son's death and his pained impulse to believe his wife's delusion, his is the only character that has any real dimensions. But like the others, the script only requires him to move through the predefined plot points.
Inside is delivered on DVD in a poor transfer. The slightly washed-out picture looks comparable to VHS. As a result, scenes lack contrast and the lighting is rendered flat. It isn't constant but dust and noise is noticeable on the image throughout the movie. There also seems to be a problem resolving fine line detail. Patterns on shirts create a slight shimmer in the video. And there are at least two instances where the outline of an actor doesn't synchronize with his movements as he walks across the screen.
The audio is uncomplicated but like the video it is delivered in a substandard manner. Actors' voices have a hollowness in some scenes as though the raw location recording was used on the final mix. There is also an odd moment where Josie is listening to a radio in her bedroom at what sounds like whisper level volume but her father calls from the hallway for her to turn it down. The overall impression of the sound leaves me to wonder if the audio mix was unfinished.
Director Jeff Mahler provides a commentary track to accompany the movie. He does talk about how the story developed and shares information on the process of independent filmmaking, but his commentary is mostly a play-by-play of the action we see on screen. It may be interesting for those wanting to hear a filmmaker reflect on his first feature.
Despite the bland lighting and disappointing picture quality on this DVD, there are a few moments of interesting photography. Using real locations and making the best of limited resources, some shots convey a good spatial sense and generate some effective tension through the use of screen space. The early scenes of Alex lurking around corners work well enough even if they test believability a bit by lingering too long.
Inside could have been a claustrophobic drama about a young man held captive by a seemingly normal couple. However, slight acting and an unpolished script inspire unintentional laughs rather than suspense. The movie isn't helped by a substandard DVD transfer.
Guilty as charged. This dog needs to be put outside.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director's Commentary