Opening strong, They're Inside wasted no time in grabbing my attention, preparing me for what looked to be a stressful ordeal. A body is quickly—and violently—dropped during a Youtube-esque recording. Knives are used to sickening degree, and we're ultimately left with a very bloody, very unsettling final view of the crime. And while that alone worked as a shocking surprise, what truly caught me off guard was that we continue to watch the events unfold, not from the cinematic third person view, but rather from the perspective of the in-film cameras.
This is a found footage movie.
Specifically, a found footage home-invasion movie. Even more specifically, a meta film within a film (home-invasion found footage movie). Going in blind, I hadn't the slightest clue—and thank god. Found footage is a sub genre I've grown absolutely tired of; not because there's anything inherently wrong with it, but rather that, because of its ability to accommodate small budgets, it understandably tends to be a go-to for a LOT of independent filmmakers. And since Thirteenth Floor focuses mainly only on independent films, it means we've seen a LOT of found footage horror.
But I think Director John-Paul Panelli understands this, and to his credit, They're Inside certainly demonstrates an earnest attempt at taking found footage in a direction not typically seen of films of its ilk. What starts as a slasher home-invasion, quickly switches gears to something more akin to a character driven drama, slowing its pulse as character backstory is meticulously developed. It's in the main body of the film's narrative that you'll also come to understand the meta nature of its presentation. Not unlike Steven DeGennaro's FOUND FOOTAGE 3D, we are watching a movie about a movie being made (although Panelli's film takes things a touch further by the film's conclusion). This lends some unconventionality to the proceedings, and would (like that film) keep things from getting stale — but as an unfortunate side effect of the laser focus on backstory, and the exposition used often to reveal it, the opposite tends to happen.
They're Inside has a tendency to meander, drag its feet, and maybe forget its initial promise of being a horror film; something that doesn't truly happen until about two-thirds of the way in. It wouldn't be a problem (I have patience, I can dig a slow burn), but there wasn't enough in the way of dangling carrots to keep me as engaged as I should have been, making the mid section of the film a little tough to get through at times. Thankfully performances are strong, and the leads (Karli Hall and Amanda Kathleen) compelling enough that my impatience was somewhat pacified.
Of course, things do eventually kick into high gear, and the film races in all its terror and mean spirited hijinx all at once, and oh boy, is it brutal. I'm talking a cornucopia of unapologetic violence that hits like a ton of bricks (to the face) making the tail end of They're Inside an intense and effectively disturbing ordeal. Further, it all coincides with a dark wrap up to the main plot thread between the two leads, eliminating any and all hope of reaching some kind of positive conclusion. This is a bleak affair ultimately, leaving you with the same feeling of despair the opening of the film evoked.