Lovable losers are always great fodder for an angsty teen horror flick. The outcasts, the weirdos, the ones who can’t find friends, even the ones who don’t want to find friends. Nonconformists who find comfort in conforming to nonconformity. As Frank Zappa once said during a show, “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform and don’t kid yourself.”
The uniform for the outcasts in There’s Someone Inside Your House, the new adaptation of the novel by Stephanie Perkins, is wokeness. The film takes place in a small town in rural Nebraska, and the small band of teenage protagonists seem to be the only folks in town who are on the right side of social justice. It’s something that hangs heavily over the film, even in the moments where it drifts away from commentary and just tells a story. If there’s one thing we love here at Missile Test, it’s being lectured to by a movie. Just kidding. We don’t like that. We do like slasher flicks, though!
Sydney Park stars as Makani Young, a Hawaiian teen who has moved in with her grandmother (BJ Harrison) in Nebraska before her senior year of high school. She left the sunny tropics for reasons of which she is deeply ashamed, and, when revealed, get worked into the plot.
The other members of her social circle are Asjha Cooper as Alexandra, Jesse LaTourette as Darby, Diego Josef as Rodrigo, Dale Whibley as Zach, and Burkely Duffield as Caleb. The group is as diverse as a group this small can get, with Makani being mixed-race, Alexandra African-American, Darby trans, Diego Latino, Caleb a gay football player, and Zach the unfortunate progeny of a rich white man who is hurting the locals economically. In this film’s universe, any one of these things is enough to make someone a pariah at their high school. It’s a heavy-handed and clumsy attempt at social commentary. It succeeds only in moments when the film embraces the absurd or goes for satire, such as when it is revealed that the upright student council president has been making anonymous podcasts for a white power website. Did I mention this movie could be a little heavy-handed? Anyway.
The introductory scene sets up the plot. In it, a high school student, and player on the football team, Jackson (Markian Tarasiuk), is stalked and murdered in his house by a knife-wielding, masked killer. This wasn’t just a slash and run, though. Jackson has a secret. While hazing new members of the varsity squad, Jackson went nuts and beat the stuffing out of Caleb. Caleb and the rest of the football team kept the beating a secret. Before Jackson is killed, however, the killer pasted screenshots of a video of the beating all over Jackson’s house, and before delivering the coup de grâce, forwarded the video to everyone in town. And that’s the twist particular to the killer in this movie. The people of the town have secrets. The killer will find them out, and let those secrets out into the wild before wrapping up a kill, so the victim will go to the great beyond wallowing in personal embarrassment. It’s pretty much the nightmare scenario for any teenager.
More deaths follow, and suspicion begins to fall on the one real outcast in the film, Ollie (Théodore Pellerin), whom no one seems to want to associate with. That is, except for Makani. During the summer break, the two of them had a secret love affair, but as soon as the fall semester started, Makani kicked Ollie to the curb, and refuses to acknowledge that the two know each other at all. Ollie being the prime suspect in the killings, this only adds to Makani’s personal dramas.
Makani is the main character, but this is a movie that didn’t need one. The story would have been just as impactful if it had been more of an ensemble affair. Usually in a story where one person is the main focus, their lives have a profound effect on the main plot, but Makani’s doesn’t. It’s more extended backstory that justifies her becoming the target of the killer in the final act. The lives of Makani’s friends end up existing in the abstract, never looked at with any sort of depth beyond making sure they check diversity boxes. It’s a missed opportunity.
The kills are nice and bloody, and this reviewer even felt a little fear here and there — something rare for a decades-long fan of horror flicks. A huge challenge to suspension of disbelief is the killer’s preparations. He does some time-consuming redecorating of his victims’ homes, and viewers are supposed to believe he accomplishes this in a matter of minutes, or seconds, depending on which kill it is. The hardest kill to swallow was at a crowded party at Zach’s house, where the killer did his setup in full view of everyone, no one disturbed the preparations, and then no one prevented the killing or was able to provide enough of an eyewitness account to point cops in the right direction. This was a very lazy sequence on the part of director Patrick Brice.
And that’s a criticism that can be applied to many parts of this film. This is a polished production, but the shortcuts are evident everywhere a viewer chooses to look with scrutiny. What we have, then, is a social commentary film that is heavy-handed and has little follow through, a slasher flick that can’t bear too close of a look, and a character study that has no relation to the plot until screenwriter Henry Gayden needed to put his protagonist in danger. None of this is enough to doom the film, even taken together. It is enough to make the film anonymous and forgettable.