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Monday, October 12, 2020

[Review] ‘They Live Inside Us’ Is Haunted By Poor Acting and Ghastly Writing

In many writers, there is a great fear of the blank page. The anxiety of writer’s block lingers, halting the writer from bringing their story to fruition. Stress eventually leads to a spiral of self-doubt, pushing one to desperately seek ideas. This is a core narrative component to They Live Inside Us (written and directed by Michael Ballif). Jake (James Morris) is a writer who takes his young daughter Dani (Emily Broschinsky) to the supposedly haunted Booth house, hoping that the setting will stir up some good ole inspiration. What starts off as a well-intentioned visit though eventually turns into something much more sinister.

There’s a good bit of fun in having a horror story centered on a horror writer; not only does it have the potential to play into some fun cheese, but there is even the chance of an interesting meta element. And for a portion of its runtime, They Live Inside Us delivers on both. However, these qualities only make up for a fraction of the experience, for the film is haunted by vapid acting and writing.

The horrors of the old Booth home are unknown, the only details being that something horrible came upon the family. The setting of the house offers a chilling atmosphere. Vacant rooms offer a cold aura, each sound of the floorboards emphasizing the emptiness of the house. Solid uses of lighting and cinematography allow for moments of suspense as Jake stumbles across weird happenings. The presentation of the house makes for one of the strongest aspects of the film. Where the house loses its appeal is when characters are introduced and talking. 

As a protagonist, Jake is dull. There isn’t much of a reason to care for him since there isn’t much known about him. Through context clues the audience will pick up on him being a writer, as well as the fact he and Dani are struggling with some unknown tragedy involving his wife Cynthia (Stevie Dust). The main aspect to Jake is his current difficulty writing. He roams about the house, sits at his computer, but has trouble coming up with what he wants to say. Other than his writing and vague sense of grief, there isn’t anything else to get to know him by. This same lack of depth also pertains to Dani and Cynthia. These are just characters dropped into a horror story for the sake of making events happen, and there isn’t much reason to feel for them.

Though lack of characterization makes for one of the film’s biggest weaknesses, the dialogue and acting are equally as horrifying. In conversations between Jake and Dani, so much emotion comes across as forced and fake. There will be times where Jake is supposedly flustered or sad, but the way he conveys “emotion” is cartoonish; it’s as if he was told to be sad and is trying to do is best interpretation of sadness – not genuinely conveying that emotion. Very few, if any scenes, spark a sense of believability when it comes to the film’s more serious sequences. These dialogue problems further emphasize the blandness of each character; when Jake is trying to convey anger, it comes across like fake anger. 

As far as the plot is concerned, there’s a lot of meandering. The haunted house aspect of the film works in rolling out moments of creepiness, but not much in terms of developing a larger narrative. The audience will see ghostly imagery from time to time, but it is never made clear how much danger Jake and Dani are in. For the most part, They Live Inside Us is a story about one guy who has trouble writing and some spooky stuff that happens around him; there is no mystery Jake is trying to solve, no ghost to out run, just nothing driving him other than to write. By the end, the film throws a bunch of stuff at the viewer in hopes of creating an emotionally intense conclusion – it doesn’t work though and it all comes across as muddled. 

The ending also represents the film’s difficulty in juggling tone. At times it wants to play into b-horror and other times it wants to be heavy. The playful stuff works for the most part, but the serious stuff falls flat on its face. 

Among all these flaws however, They Live Inside Us has some interesting meta moments that bring a welcoming boost of excitement. In scenes where Jake is writing, the film cuts to black and transitions to a fictional film displaying the events taking place in his writing. These films capture and present a fun slasher vibe. There are a few of these scenes, each providing a fresh take. Each focus on the Woman in White (Hailey Nebeker), including some use of exciting synth music, film grain appearing over the picture and some horror baddie. 

These portions of the film not only make for fun meta appeal, but they also show the potential for what They Live Inside Us could have been. While so much of the film mentions Jake’s trouble with writing, it doesn’t do much to explore that. These fictional films could have been utilized to dive into Jake’s mind and learn more about what he cares about as a writer and what other troubles may be eating at him. Instead, they only act as fluff in-between creepy hauntings and dream sequences.

With an intriguing setting, premise and unique meta aspects, it is a shame that They Live Inside Us is so hunkered down by lackluster writing and acting. One will find promising elements throughout the film – interesting ideas that make their way in, but unfortunately are never fully committed to. For as much as it tries, They Live Inside Us fails to convey anything of substance.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3636246/review-live-inside-us-haunted-poor-acting-ghastly-writing/

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