From Within (2008)
Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring Elizabeth Rice, Thomas Dekker, Kelly Blatz, Laura Allen, Adam Goldberg
Directed by Phedon Papamichael
I delayed writing this review for a few days after seeing the film, because my initial response to watching From Within was so vitriolic, that I figured I must be overreacting. I think my kneejerk loathing stemmed from the fact that the director, Phedon Papamichael, has said that his goal was not to make a typical teen horror movie, and that he didn’t want to cast the regular WB crowd. How then can one explain the fact that From Within, more than just about any teen horror film I’ve seen in years, posits a world where pretty, solipsistic teenagers run amok, with no concessions to adult influence; they’re able to jump start the apocalypse as easily as they can lead groups of witch hunting vigilantes, seemingly oblivious, and impervious to the police, their parents, or any form of authority. From Within feels like a movie made for pampered high schoolers, too self-centered to realize that the characters, the story, and the surface level themes could use a good dose of tutoring, from without.
The film is also frustrating, because the central concept is genuinely intriguing. From Within has a promising prologue in which a couple of goth teenagers, Sean (Shiloh Fernandez) and Natalie (Rumer Willis) lie on the grass, mumbling passages out of an old looking book. When Sean pulls a gun out and splatters his brains all over Natalie, he sets in motion a highly contagious suicide plague that causes anyone who comes in contact with the corpse of a prior suicide to be stalked by their own doppelganger, until they, in turn, kill themselves. It’s a highly Japanese concept, told in a very western way, and for the first fifteen minutes or so, hopes will run high for From Within.
It’s not until we begin meeting the rest of the teen and adult characters that the cracks start to show. The town, and cast are split into groups of either hard core, right wing evangelicals, or the local outcast family, with the film’s final girl, Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice), lying squarely in the middle. As From Within unfolds, we learn that the outcast family are witches, and the suicide plague is revenge on the town that murdered their mother. The themes of the film are meant to deal with religious righteousness, and the long term repercussions of evangelical segregation, but little is ever investigated, and apart from a pastor with a hidden gay scandal (yawn), whose son harbors violent tendencies that he masks as religious retribution (yawn), not much is made of this otherwise interesting concept.
Most unforgivable is that none of the characters are ever believable. The sense of helpless panic that would ensue if a rash of suicides hit a small town, is never felt. Characters slough off the suicide of their best friends, wives, and daughters, turning to witchcraft, or witch hunting in the blink of an eye, with no believable motivation, or struggle. It’s as if, after reading the script, and knowing the story, all of the actors forgot to act surprised at their predicament. If the filmmakers and actors can’t be bothered to invest in the story, beyond a few over-emoted scenes of screaming or crying, why should the audience?
The horror elements are reasonably effective, with freaky looking doppelgangers chasing their prey, occasionally actively participating in the suicide (grating arms across a broken window), other times tricking their twins into killing themselves (making Drano look like alcohol). It all feels a bit like Final Destination, but without the festive gore and sense of fun. If you’re looking for nightmare inducing doppelgangers, a subtle story told with class, and truly mature characters, you’d be much better off with a film like Nacho Cerda’s The Abandoned.
2 1/2 out of 5