At first glance, They’re Inside looks like a found-footage redux of 2008’s seminal home invasion masterpiece The Strangers. Even director John-Paul Panelli admits this was basically the jumping-off point. But you won’t be watching for long before you realize They’re Inside is another animal altogether–and it’s fierce!
Not only are the plots and medium wildly divergent, They’re Inside is deceptively complex. It’s an example of meta-filmmaking of a movie within a movie (and yet another movie inside of that). It also unfolds across multiple timelines, making for a challenging watch—right up until the third act finale when all the pieces fall into place. In addition to Panelli, I recently sat down with They’re Inside producer Derek Dennis Herbert to discuss the film’s intricacies!
Both agree that They’re Inside can be looked at as a metaphor for filmmaking itself:
“I’d definitely say it could be a metaphor for filmmaking itself,” says Herbert. “It’s definitely a personal journey that incorporates a lot of a filmmaker’s experiences.”
Panelli adds: “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a film within a film—within a film! That’s something we actually worried about. The film is so meta when it comes to filmmaking, we were afraid that people who aren’t filmmakers wouldn’t enjoy it. We were worried about going too much in that direction, but the response has been good.”
I’m certainly not a filmmaker, yet I never found They’re Inside exclusionary. If anything, it offers insight into the filmmaking process that outsiders will find both illuminating and intriguing. Of course, the main challenge of They’re Inside is telling a compelling story across multiple timelines.
About this, Herbert tells us: “We were concerned every once in a while that people wouldn’t get it. That’s why [during production] we kept tweaking and editing the film. It was always the intention to confuse people from time to time. We wanted people to question what they’re watching until the very end when it’s all explained.”
Panelli shared his producer’s reticence: “[Telling a story across multiple timelines] was probably the most difficult thing to do, especially during editing. That’s why we did a lot of family and friends screenings. There was confusion, especially in our early edits, about what was taking place and when it was taking place. But jumping back and forth between timelines was definitely our biggest challenge when it came to editing.”
Both agree that They’re Inside is a film that basically requires multiple viewings. While everything is illuminated by the film’s conclusion, a second watch will reveal previously unnoticed details—like a simple hairclip! Luckily, They’re Inside is a film that’s good enough to watch more than once.
“The feedback we’ve gotten so far is that people actually want to watch the film again,” Herbert tells us. “We’ve had people on social media tell us they’ve already watched They’re Inside more than once. There are a lot of subtle things in the film you might not catch on your first viewing. This is more of an ownable film as opposed to a rental. If you like it, you’ll want to enjoy it a few times to fully understand everything that’s going on and fully enjoy the nuances of it all.”
“I always say They’re Inside more of a mystery thriller than a slasher,” Herbert continues. “We wanted to create a sense of dread that would be more impactful than the kills. I like the kills, but I think the film really benefits from the tone and the pacing we established. For example, The Thing by John Carpenter is one of the slowest paced films you’ll ever watch, but it has a dreadful tone that sucks you in. Generationally, it seems like filmmakers want to move faster and faster, but I think it’s a good thing that we slowed it down. We like the way the story tells itself and unfolds.”
If audiences enjoy They’re Inside as much as I did, we might actually see a follow-up!
“We hope people realize that They’re Inside is not The Strangers; it’s an original take on the found footage genre,” says Panelli. “We have a prequel or a sequel on the shelf that we might make next, depending on how people react to this one.”
You can pick up your copy of They’re Inside at Epic Picture’s website, HERE.
When two sisters go to an isolated cabin in the woods to film a passion project, family secrets start to get in the way, as do masked strangers filming a passion project of their own.
Panelli directed from a screenplay he co-wrote with Schuyler Brumley; the film stars Karli Hall, Amanda Kathleen Ward, and Sascha Ghafoor.