WITHIN - 2009
Bigfoot Entertainment, Alliance Films
Rated: Australia: MA / Canada: 14A / Ireland: 15A / Singapore: NC-16 / UK: 15 / USA: R
WITHIN begins with calm music and soft focus images of flowers. Also pictured are Matryoshka or babushka dolls: The Russian dolls that are nested inside one another. Sometimes opening credits are just that and the movie begins after, and sometimes the opening credits are the start of the movie. For WITHIN, the images of the Matryoshka dolls are a cogent warning of what is about to come.
10 year old Rachel Weiss (Mia Ford), has nightmares of the day her Mother, Sadie (Elaine Hendrix: WISH YOU WERE DEAD), died while taking a bullet from a madman: a bullet that was intended for Rachel. Even at that time Rachel knew that she could see the evil in the madman long before he exploded. She just didn't understand it.
Rachel and her father, Nathan (Sam Jaeger: BLOOD WORK), have moved to a new town to start their lives all over. Rachel would be getting along well at school since she makes friends with her classmates like Allison Tompkins (Gabby Soleil) easily enough, and has a sympathetic teacher, Abby Miller (Lori Heuring: MULHOLLAND DR., WICKED LITTLE THINGS, PROM NIGHT ). What intrudes into Rachel's life is the cold and snooty Michelle Lowe (Sammi Hanratty: BOOGEYMAN 2). Michelle snubs Rachel at first, then, noticing her popularity with the other children, attempts to corral Rachel for herself. First playing herself off as a wounded victim, Michelle soon reveals herself for a manipulative liar who will do whatever it takes to control Rachel's life.
Michelle gets away with who she is because her parent's, Steven (Brent Sexton: THE GLASS HOUSE, VANILLA SKY, FLIGHTPLAN, DEADWOOD [TV]) and Bernice (Stacy Haiduk: KINDRED: THE EMBRACED, VICTIM), don't simply stay out of her life, it's almost as if they're frightened of her.
Rachel: I could have helped her.
Psychiatrist: It's not your fault.
Rachel: I didn't say it was my fault.
The acting by both Mia Ford and Sammi Hanratty is stunning. In Mia's favor are her natural sad eyes, reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in THE SIXTH SENSE (and I mean seriously reminiscent, you'd believe they were brother and sister). Also, like Osment's character in THE SIXTH SENSE, Rachel sees dead people. Unlike Cole Seer, she isn't frightened of them, but only confused as to why she sees them when no one else does. Sammi has the harder task of pretending to be a character who pretends to be another person who lies. And she pulls it off! Her role of Michelle is just hateful enough, and just fragile enough, to feel real.
It's more than just Michelle's manipulations that keep Rachel in place, it's the fact that Rachel often sees a dead girl inside Michelle when she is at her most evil. Michelle is not aware of this "other" that may be controllng her even while she is controlling others. Worse, Rachel is too curious about the "other" to let Michelle get away, even though she knows she should. Up to a point, she allows Michelle to manipulate her so she can study the creature within Michelle. Once this circling begins, we are no longer so comfortable around Rachel either.
Events get ever worse until one day Allison disappears and Michelle is walking around wearing Allison's necklace.
The Horror Thriller subgenre of the Evil / possessed Child is nothing new of course. From VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED to THE EXORCIST to DON'T LOOK NOW to THE OMEN and so much more, it's as well established in its rules as vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Certain points of Rebecca Sonnenshine's script borrow (without duplicating) more modern themes of this subgenre in everything from the aforementioned THE SIXTH SENSE back to THE BAD SEED.
Director Hanelle M. Culpepper draws out the mystery and thrills with a slow hand. This isn't some Michael Bay idea of a special effects thriller. The Horror, which will likely speak to parents far more than childless singles, comes from the inexperienced naivety of young children as they doubt themselves, unwittingly trust the wrong people, and are drawn into the darkest wells of human nature. Which is basically the story behind nearly every crime perpetrated on a child.
Director Culpepper often kept the camera at a child's level, so the frighteningly giant aspect of an adult is intimidating even among the kind ones, and certainly when they get loud and angry.
Made on possibly the lowest budget a film could have with union workers and a Los Angeles shoot, WITHIN is a slow turning screw of Horror, with each new scene slowly and surely creeping up the skin crawl factor. You might just find yourself a little bit paranoid around your child's new friend after this one.
Four Shriek Girls
copyright 2009 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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