Judge Adam Arseneau has a ham sandwich within.
Our review of Within (2009), published October 31st, 2010, is also available.
What evil lurks…within.
It took two solid acts before I started to dislike Within. Truth be told, this is a lot longer than I expected to make it. Mixing elements of supernatural horror and a dramatic thriller, Within tries to mix too many metaphors and ends up a jumble of well-worn horror tropes and familiar clichés that falls apart in the last reel.
A troubled young girl with a secret gift, Rachel Weiss (Mia Ford) watches her own mother gunned down in the street. Reeling from the loss, her father transplants her to a small town to start fresh. Rachel insists she can see bad spirits and evil within people, but her father dismisses her outlandish claims. Rachel finds comfort in two new friends—a young teacher named Abby Miller (Lori Heuring) and a troublemaking classmate, Michelle (Sammi Hanratty). Things are good for a time, until Michelle begins pushing the boundaries of good taste—harassing classmates, playing dangerous pranks, and escalating in sadistic cruelty towards those around her. Fearful for her safety, Rachel tries to escape her influence, but soon is drawn into a tangled web of violent attacks and brutality stretching back more than a decade…
Like I said: the first two acts of Within are gold—a relatively straightforward story of a young girl, Rachel, transplanted to a new town, still reeling from the death of her mother. She picks up with a new friend, Michelle, but soon finds her penchant for childhood mischief borders on the sadistic. This is pretty wild stuff, considering these are pre-teen toddlers at best. Some strong child performances by Mia Ford and Sammi Hanratty turn an otherwise schlocky romp into a tense thrill ride, evoking vibes of The Good Son (which is an underrated thriller in its own right). Of particular note is Sammi Hanratty, who plays the role of Michelle with such vitriol and maliciousness; she's a great young actress. As the violence escalates, you genuinely get caught up in the narrative. This isn't groundbreaking cinema, but the script is tight and the actors are giving it the old independent try, so it works. Then you hit the third act, and the wheels fall off the bus.
Where do things go awry? Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint how a film fails to satisfy once the credits roll, but with Within, it is embarrassingly easy. Remember in the first five minutes of the film, where we meet Rachel and are told matter-of-factly that she can see "evil" within people? And then the film totally forgets about this subplot for the next 70 minutes? You can pretty much see where this is going. At the very end, we shift away from an interesting thriller narrative about a psychotic toddler abusing her family, kidnapping classmates, and lighting buildings on fire, and switch to an embarrassingly weak and unoriginal ghost story. The ending is unsatisfying. It's a shame. The film works so hard to establish this creepy, damaged dynamic between Michelle as this superb manipulator of human sympathy, and basically undermines all the hard work by going all M. Night Shyamalan on us.
Bigfoot Entertainment sent us over a screener copy of Within, so we can't give you a sense of what the finalized retail version will be like. Ours had watermark warnings, a washed-out and grainy letterbox presentation, tepid stereo sound, and no extras or supplements of any kind.
Within has the makings of a decent thriller, but muddles itself up by working in horror elements that obfuscate its own validity. If you could ditch the supernatural elements, you'd have a tight indie film that would make a solid rental. As-is, there are just too many other creepy supernatural horror films out there that do it better.
The court offers a reduced sentence to the first reel, but no mercy for the second.
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Studio: Bigfoot Entertainment
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