Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Mia Ford, Sammi Hanratty, Lori Heuring, Sam Jaeger, Brent Sexton, Stacy Haiduk
Directed by Hanelle Culpepper
If you're reading this right now, I am pretty certain you are about to be a witness to history. I am about write a line that I am almost positive has never been uttered before in the annals of English language. Are you ready? Here it goes.
The horror movie that premiered on the Lifetime Network this past weekend was actually pretty good.
Shocking, I know. I can't believe I just wrote it either. I hope nobody fainted.
Within owes much of its success to the two child actresses at the center of the story. Mia Ford has the key role as Rachel, a nine-year-old girl who sees dead people - sinister looking dead people. These dead people appear with pale skin, darkened eyes, and sometimes boasting grotesque bodily wounds that indicate they did not die of natural causes. These dead people appear in the direct vicinity of people that do very bad things, such as the man that gunned down her mother right in front of her.
As you can imagine, seeing evil spirits, having watched her mother get murdered before her very eyes, and now moving to a new town has left Rachel feeling emotionally wounded, unnerved, and like a social outcast. Ford is up to the challenge of playing her with a realistic mix of sadness and skittishness.
The real standout to me was Sammi Hanratty as Rachel's new deviously passive-aggressive best friend whether she wants her to be or not, Michelle. Cheery, pushy, overly friendly one moment and seething with hostility the next, displaying a morbid fascination with death and the pain inflicted upon others, blackmailing Rachel into hanging out with her, with an older sister who practically flees in terror whenever they end up in the same room, something just isn't right with this young Michelle. Is she just a little unbalanced, a full-fledged sociopath in the making, or does that unfriendly apparition of Michelle's deceased sister that keeps appearing indicate a greater evil within? Whatever the reason, when your new best friend gets mad at a girl on a bicycle and hands you some barb wire, expecting you to hold up your end of a neck-high clothesline, it's definitely time to get some new friends and perhaps maybe call the cops.
What makes the performances of Ford and Hanratty most impressive is that one or both of them are in almost every scene. Aside from Lori Heuring (The In Crowd, 8MM 2) as the schoolteacher who takes special interest in Rachel and becomes increasingly frustrated by Michelle's behavior, particularly when it comes to matters of her own baby brother who vanished years earlier, the focus is on the two little girls, and the adults are supporting characters. Within rests on their shoulders, and they prove up the task of carrying a film. So if you're a member of the cast of Twilight, take note that you all just got out-acted by two pre-teen girls in a Lifetime Network movie.
While I personally didn't find Within all that scary, I appreciated that Hanelle Culpepper directed the movie with that slow burn vibe reminiscent of those moody made-for-television supernatural chillers from the Seventies, many of which still hold up today. Within is more effective when it just lets the tension build and isn't going for quick jolts like so many modern horror flicks. The negative trade-off to this being that the movie is so patient in setting things up that when the payoffs do come, there's a rushed nature to it all. The second half is a bit jumpy and feels needlessly hurried at times. Kind of makes me wonder if Lifetime trimmed some scenes to fit it into the TV time slot.
I did find it a bit hard to believe nobody else picked up on Michelle's wickedness because she’s not always subtle about it. One would also think a father showing up at his daughter's elementary school to take her out of class and all but dragging this screaming little girl out of the classroom in a fit of rage, horrifying her classmates in the process, would set off major alarm bells with the teacher and lead to a visit from Social Services.
On the plus side the stage is set for a potential romance between Rachel's widower father and her recently divorced schoolteacher, a romance the movie does not waste time developing.
In a loopy sort of way you could almost look at Within as the Lifetime Network equivalent of one of those Syfy channel "versus" movies. What we have here is essentially The Sixth Sense vs. The Bad Seed. This could possibly lead to a whole new trend in Lifetime Network original filmdom following in Syfy's footsteps. Perhaps next we'll get the Lifetime Network original movies Breast Cancer vs. Eating Disorder or Mega Adulterer vs. Super Wife Beater.
3 out of 5
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