There are few things in life more capable of scaring me senseless than humans. We are an unpredictable creature from the day we breathe our first breath. Much like beautifully wrapped packages on Christmas morning, you may only guess what’s inside. Ultimately, there arrives a revealing moment when the contents, beautiful or hideous, are presented for all the world to gaze upon. Unfortunately for the human race, there are no exchange counters or thirty day return policies. If only we could see within the packages before we opened them, we might be given a chance to make better choices, thus allowing us to avoid some of life’s ugly little turns.
“Within” introduces us to young Rachel (Mia Ford) who was born with the rare gift to see evil spirits within her fellow human beings. Following the violent death of her mother (Elaine Hendricks) – who died protecting Rachel from a gun-wielding maniac – Rachel and her father, Nathan (played by “Parenthood’s” Sam Jaeger), move from the city to a quiet suburb attempting to rebuild their life. Her new teacher Ms. Miller (Lori Heuring) quickly becomes a trustworthy adult figure that seems to possess a tragic past of her own, and little Allison (Gabby Soliel) turns out to be a friendly new playmate for Rachel. However, the class bully Michelle (Sammi Hanratty) humiliates Rachel at first meeting, but after observing Rachel as an admired classmate, decides the two should be best friends. Strange things start to happen after the two pair up. Classmates start to go missing, someone is handing out razorblade laced Halloween candy, and an unsolved case of a missing boy from years past is once again brought to light.
“Within” is not a film that was shot with an unlimited budget or highly recognizable actors or even an overly riveting storyline, but it does achieve a believable chemistry between the actors. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being subjected to feuding, pre-pubescent girls in the throes of their belligerent best, you’ll agree that the young actresses were exactly on point from facial expressions and body language, right on down to their snottiest deliveries. As Hanelle Culpepper’s first directing attempt, she’s delivered a very watchable film that leaves you to ponder just how she managed to get such outstanding performances from actors so young. I look forward to seeing future films presented by Ms. Culpepper, simply because she was well-focused and didn’t try to over-play her first hand as do many first time filmmakers. She’s established that she’s more than qualified at presenting a marketable product and I sincerely hope she continues to prove the fact that women in horror are wanted, needed, appreciated and capable of being so much more than just a great rack looking for a place to die.
The location filming was flowing and beautiful. The storyline moved well and was kept taut. The film did leave a few unanswered questions hanging out in space, but only in retrospect were they noticeable and even then, not noteworthy enough to rate a drubbing over the omissions.
I’m not sure if I would want to possess a gift as intimidating Rachel’s, but I can see where upon occasion it might come in very handy. You’d always know whom it was safe to be friends with and whom not to date, but “Within” also left me with the inkling that going to the mall or simply strolling through a crowded park could become a very traumatic experience. It certainly gives you something to think about, and like the old blonde bat says, “That’s a Good Thing.”