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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Bigfoot Entertainment Inc.
RUNNING TIME 91 minutes
• No special features
It’s The Bad Seed vs. The Sixth Sense
Mia Ford, Lori Huering, Sammi Hanratty, Sam Jaeger
Rachel Weiss can see evil spirits within others. She is a sweet girl with a troubled soul caused by this unique gift. After witnessing the brutal killing of her mother, Rachel and her father look for a fresh start by moving to a small town. Rachel quickly warms to her new school teacher Abby Miller, and becomes “best friends” with classmate Michelle Lowe. When Michelle’s penchant for schoolyard pranks turns from good-natured fun to potentially deadly, Rachel suspects her friend may be less than friendly. Rachel’s visions could be the key to stopping a series of violent attacks against the town’s children and unlocking the puzzle behind a decade-old disappearance.
A part of me wanted this movie to be completely unwatchable so I could pretend I was clever and say something along the lines of “you’re better off doing WITHOUT.” Fortunately my inner Gene Shalit was shut up by a rather surprising little ghost story.
Within is about a little girl named Rachel who is able to see ghosts, but they only ever seem to be in close proximity to bad people. She first discovers the ability on the day her mother is killed by an irate store clerk who is trying to get to her. Flash forward and she’s living with her well-meaning but clueless father and starting fourth grade. She’s still pretty messed up over her mother’s death and the whole seeing-bloody-mutilated-dead-people-glaring-at-her thing couple with her Dad’s “everything will be fine if you’ll just stop giving a shit” persona isn’t really helping.
For unexplained reasons Rachel is approached by Michelle, a mean and sociopath little girl obsessed with pain and death, to become her friend. Michelle falls somewhere between Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son and the little girl from Orphan on the spectrum of terrifying evil children. If her repellent personality weren’t enough to drive Rachel away, then the malevolent glares of her dead older sister certainly are. Unfortunately Michelle keeps finding ways to blackmail Rachel into continuing their terrible friendship and the ways she do this grow continually more evil.
In doing research for this review I discovered that Within actually premiered on The Lifetime Network. This not a surprise since the female characters are well-written and fully developed instead of being a series of rote “female character in a movie” tropes. But on the other hand it’s totally surprising because the female characters are well-written and fully developed instead of being a series of rote “female character in a movie” tropes. Of course the movie wasn’t made for or by The Lifetime Network, it was just aired on it, so that’s probably why it’s above the quality of the movies that usually premiere there.
Within’s main strength lies in its two leads. Mia Ford plays Rachel with just the right amount of sadness, skittishness, and honest child-like behavior to make her character feel real. Sammi Hanratty (who some may remember as the little girl from Desperation) is a great villain. She’s very good at playing a terrible person and her eyes just seem to glitter with hatred and fury, but when you’re meant to care about or feel sorry for Michelle she sells that perfectly.
While Within is never scary per-se, it’s very unnerving. The way most ghost movies go these days is to either be densely atmospheric and show as little as possible (looking at you, Ti West) or go the William Castle route and just bang shit together and have ghosts jumping out at the screen. I have no problem with either of these approaches, I’ve been scared by both, but it’s good to see a different approach. Within doesn’t try to scare you but it builds tension that just piles up in the back of your mind until the whole thing comes tumbling down at the film’s conclusion. There are no jump scares or creepy noises, the movie speaks for itself and while it’s not scary it’s certainly tense.
This isn’t to say that Within has no shortcomings. The slow-burn that is 95% of the movie makes the payoff feel incredibly rushed. While the writing is great and well thought out, there are a few questionable attempts at symbolism. Constant references are made to things within things like nesting dolls, tulip bulbs, and cocoons which seems to imply some sort of inner-beauty metaphor but the afflicted people like the store keeper are outwardly horrible and have ugly birthmarks on their head and face and since there’s an evil ghost pulling their strings from within I don’t see what the movie is getting out. There’s also a lot of butterfly symbolism attached to Rachel which I guess might represent how she grows up throughout the movie as she realizes how she can use her powers to help others, but it’s kind of a stretch and doesn’t really work.
The movie ends on a strong note and I could easily see a series being developed about an adult Rachel hunting down other people who are being afflicted with the evil within and being an Odd Thomas-like character, but that would probably suck so I’ll just keep that one up in my head where it rules. Besides, Within works just as well as a one-off as it would the start of a series of movies. It’s a solid film that has so far held up on three viewings for me and I really can’t praise it enough.
My DVD is a screener so it has no special features, menu, and a bizarre aspect ratio. There is currently no DVD available for sale and I can’t find any information about a DVD release. However, you can watch the movie in its entirety on Amazon Instant video (follow the link above) and buy it outright for $10.00.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars