JANUARY 9, 2009
The whole point of After Dark was to give independent genre movies a chance to be exposed to a wide audience, but for the most part, the movies don't even deserve After Dark's idea of "wide exposure" (i.e. playing unadvertised in the shittiest theaters in town). Movies like Dark Ride and Unearthed don't even deserve to be seen on cable, let alone in a theater for 12 bucks. But it seems like every year, there is at least one movie that deserves the boost in awareness, and it looks like From Within is that movie from this year's lineup (which includes Butterfly Effect 3, making me wonder how truly independent any of this stuff is).
Coincidentally, the film is written by Brad Keene, who also wrote Gravedancers, the alltime best AD film as far as I'm concerned. It's not as successful as that film, but it's an effective tale that combines some hallmarks of both Western and Eastern fare: small town religious hysteria (as American as apple pie!) and jumpy scares/supernatural curses (as Asian as... uh, pandas). It's something we are starting to see more of these days, and I am all for it - beats straight up remakes at any rate.
The secret weapon in the film has to be the beautiful Margo Harshman as Sadie, cousin to Thomas Dekker's character. She's only in the film a little bit, but it pays off because each of her scenes is a winner. Not only does she get the film's best line (in response to someone coming into her home because the door was open: "Does that mean if your pants are open I can just come in?"), she also has a knack for providing unexpected laughs with her constant fiddling with objects. In one scene she sits at a piano and hits a low note every time our heroine finishes an exposition-filled sentence. Hilarious stuff. And according to IMDb, we have the same birthday, so I like her even more now.
Dekker is probably the weak link. He's not the worst actor, but he seemingly only has one note (the same one you see, or probably don't see, every week on Sarah Connor), and it grows tiresome. Also, and this isn't his fault really, he's a pretty boy, and thus he sticks out like a sore thumb. Whoever cast this movie did a great job of picking people who LOOK like small town folks and not actors (even the bigger names, like Adam Goldberg and Steven Culp, fit in nicely), but Dekker, who's supposed to be the town weirdo, looks like he stepped out of a Fall Out Boy music video.
But the movie could star Bruce Willis (incidentally his daughter has a small role) and it wouldn't diminish the film's true power: MEAN SPIRITED DEATH SCENES! The concept is actually pretty unique - the ghost/curse/witch thing makes everyone kill themselves, but they are actually killed by doppelgangers or mirror images. It's sort of like Mirrors, but way better. There's one where our heroine's mom, an alcoholic, reaches for what she thinks is a bottle of vodka (which is what we see in the reflection) but in the real world its some sort of cleaning fluid.
The ending of this movie is balls-out awesome too. I don't want to spoil, but I will say this: you might groan when you see the setup for an obvious final scare, but the little epilogue to it makes it all worthwhile.
I also dug the location: Maryland. I've seen some 544526756 horror movies in the past 2 years, so I am getting pretty goddamn sick of seeing Canadian cities, Los Angeles suburbs, and Texas. Good to see a unique area (the irony being that it's supposed to be Anytown USA). Director Phedon Papamichael does his part well - the movie is not flashy or stylish, which allows us to get more attached to the characters/story than usual.
Another mark in the "con" column is the fact that the movie gets a bit repetitive at times, and thus drags in spots. While the suicide/curse concept is interesting, that doesn't mean we need to see it in action so much. Our heroine has like 3 friends with their own suicide setpiece; one could have been removed easily without any real consequence. I also would have liked more scenes with Culp's preacher character, who is a key figure in the supernatural events and yet only appears in the film for about 5 minutes. Plus, Culp just rules (the scene on Housewives where Bree reacts to his death is probably the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen on a TV show - partially because at the same time I realized that the show would never be as good again without his defeated yet sarcastic demeanor), so adding to his screentime would help the movie even if he had no connection to the story at all.
So in short - this is the type of movie that After Dark should be releasing as the rule, not the exception. It's not perfect by any means, but it certainly deserves a fate better than the dozens of low grade horror films that Lion's Gate (who handles the DVDs for these movie) releases on a weekly basis. Speaking of which, hopefully the DVD will have some quality extras, which would make a purchase all the more enticing when they come out later this spring.
What say you?