There’s Someone Inside Your House gets off to a great start: football jock Jackson Pace (Markian Tarasiuk) sets his alarm for a nap before a big game, awakens to an empty house filled with photos from a hazing ritual gone wrong and is brutally murdered by an assailant wearing a mask of his face. It’s creepy, there’s a smidge of humour and the violence is brutal. It’s only a few minutes into Netflix’s newest slasher and we’re off to a good start.
That energy carries the film through its first act as we’re introduced to a small, diverse friend group in small town Nebraska. The cluster includes Final Girl Makani Young (Sydney Park), a recent transfer student from Hawaii, as well as bitchy Alex (Asjha Cooper), quiet, anxious Rodrigo (Diego Josef), rich and aloof Zach (Dale Whibley) and, finally, non-binary Darby (Jesse LaTourette).*
*The film fails to do much with Darby, continuing a confronting trend in YA horror in which queer characters are primarily defined by their sexuality and/or gender.
The group is on the periphery of the school’s social hierarchy, but they have each other and are mostly left alone. The exceptions are Zach, who is targeted thanks to his emotionally abusive father’s predatory land acquisitions, and Darby, who is publicly outed by vile class president Katie Koons (Sarah Dugdale) the day after Jackson’s death.
Rumours about the star football player’s death spread quickly, with blame settling on gay teammate Caleb Greeley (Burkely Duffield), the subject of the hazing-gone-wrong. When a second murder occurs a few days later, the new victim’s shady past comes to light, which seemingly outlines the killer’s MO: students with dark secrets are being targeted.
This is a ripe premise for a teen slasher film and the script by Henry Gayden (Shazam!), based on Stephanie Miller’s YA thriller of the same name, does a good job of establishing the characters. They’re fun, funny and relatable, which is important because we need to care about their safety when it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something and is therefore at risk.
This is especially true of Makani, who lives with her grandmother because of a fiery incident from her past. The nature of the accident is kept mysterious even from the audience, glimpsed exclusively in brief flashes in Makani’s nightmares. There’s Someone Inside Your House teases the mystery for too long and mistakenly believes the revelation packs more of a punch than it actually does (it doesn’t help that the scene lasts all of ten seconds when it is finally shown).
The film builds to an early climax when everyone at school congregates at Zach’s palatial house for a “Secret Party”, which is revealed to be a delicious riff on Cherry Falls. In a brazen move, one of Makani’s friends is targeted in the middle of the gathering, at which point the film takes a melancholy turn as the characters grieve and make accusations against Makani’s secret lover, Ollie Larsson (Théodore Pellerin).
Alas There’s Someone Inside Your House never fully recovers from this early high; from this point on the energy takes a downward turn. The pacing, in particular, begins to suffer: scenes feel inconsequential, unnecessarily drawn out or inserted in random order. Most frustratingly, nearly everyone recedes into the background as the focus shifts primarily to Makani, Ollie and her unexciting secrets.
The film does eventually perk back up with a fiery corn maze finale in which the survivors face down the killer, but their identity and motivation doesn’t gel with the events that precede it. As a result the film’s messaging comes off as both confused and underwhelming.
The fact that the film has so much going for it early on just makes the back half all the more disappointing. It’s a shame because Patrick Brice (Creep, Creep 2)’s direction is solid and the characters (and by extension the actors) are inherently likeable and interesting.
Blame Gayden’s script, which loses sight of the film’s compelling elements in favour of nonsensical plot developments. A quick survey of Perkins’ source material suggests that these are issues inherited from the book, but the film would have been better served jettisoning elements from the novel in favour of making a stronger film.
There’s Someone In Your House is watchable, well-acted and well-directed. There’s no shortage of great set pieces and the kills, in particular, are bloody and accompanied by a great sound design. Still, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by a back half that wastes all of the potential from the first act and meanders to an underwhelming finish. 2.5/5
There’s Someone Inside Your House debuts on Netflix Oct 6, 2021