You better call your optometrist
Religion has a big place in the horror genre, probably more than any other style of movie. How often do you see religion addressed in a car chase movie like The Fast And The Furious or a teen comedy? While various religious themes are explored in horror, it's the execution that truly makes the themes matter. Religion is a delicate subject even for those who are not religious. That doesn't mean movies should question or even criticize religion, it just needs to be done in a way that is smart and thought-provoking. Just throwing a few priests and demons into the mix just won't cut it. It's also important to have a point to making your movie.
From Within is a 2008 supernatural horror movie starring Elizabeth Rice (Mad Men, Forgetting The Girl) as Lindsay. A teenage boy named Sean Spindle reads an encatation from a black book and commits suicide in front of his girlfriend, Natalie (Rumer Willis). Covered in blood, a hysterical Natalie runs into a clothing store owned by her father, saying that someone is following her. Lindsay and her alcoholic mother Trish are in the store and witness Natalie stab herself in the throat with a pair of scissors. That night, Natalie's father is haunted by a dark figure and begins to hear strange voices. He is found the next day dead from an apparent suicide. The next day, Lindsay witnesses her boyfriend Dylan (Kelly Blatz, Prom Night, Glory Daze), who is the son of the town pastor, beating on Aidan Spindle (Thomas Dekker, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Sean's brother. Dylan blames Aidan for the recent rash of deaths in the town. Some years back, Aidan and Sean's mother was labeled a witch by the town and died under mysterious circumstances. Many blamed her for the death of a local man. Lindsay takes Aidan home and treats his injuries, making a connection with him. The suicides in town continue, seemingly spreading from to each person who witnesses the previous suicide. Each person sees an evil version of themselves and is forced to commit suicide. Aidan tells Lindsay about his mother and how she used to practice witchcraft. He warns her to leave Grovetown before it is too late. A religious fervor is sweeping the town, led by Dylan. That night, Lindsay is kidnapped by Dylan and her mother's boyfriend Roy (Adam Goldberg, Saving Private Ryan, A Beautiful Mind) and brought to the church for a religious cleansing. Later, Trish sees her evil doppleganger and is forced to kill herself. Lindsay finds her body and the curse that is sweeping across the town is now inside her. How will she be able to rid herself of the curse before it is too late?
Over, under, in and out. That's what noose tying is all about.
From Within tries hard to make a point about religion, but any impact they tried to make lands with a thud. There is little subtlety to the movie, though it never reaches the point where I feel like I've been hit with a cross in order to make a point. In fact, I think they managed to miss some opportunites for bringing up religion in the movie. While I am no expert on Christianity, I know that suicide is considered a sin. In a movie that contains a large number of suicides, the fact that it is a sin is never really brought up. It's a missed opportunity in which the act could have been discussed both in religious and psychological terms. Why no coming to grips with the sin or dealing with the psychological ramifications felt by other people?
One major problem with From Within lies within the general idea of the movie itself. The movie reminds me far too much of two other movies: M. Night Shyamalan's “The Happening” and “Fallen” starring Denzel Washington. The Happening revolves around the population committing mass suicide and Fallen involves a supernatural killing passing from person to person. What do you get when you combine both movies and add a dash of religion? You get From Within. I constantly had the feeling of “I've seen this before” while watching the movie. It's fairly predictable from about 20 minutes in what is going on and what is going to happen, all the way to the “surprise” ending. I want to be clear that I am not accusing the movie of plagiarizing or stealing ideas, because From Within is it's own movie. The similarities were just too much for me to ignore. It was also an interesting choice to use high schoolers as the focus of the movie. Despite being portrayed as such, they never really act like they're in high school, but nonetheless lack the gravitas and experience to pull off the major religious themes the movie was attempting. Again, this is a missed opportunity as the movie could have explored suicide in the context of high school students which could have been poignant and powerful. Instead we get a rather plain story about a curse and a witch, with a son who looks like he belongs in 30 Seconds To Mars.
The movie is low-budget, but director Phedon Papamichael Jr. (cinematographer on The Ides Of March and 3:10 To Yuma) manages to produce some decent scares. Most of fear comes from quick shots of the dopplegangers, decked out in pale makeup and contact lenses. There are a few scenes using special effects which look decent, but they never dominate the film. The acting is fine, though certain scenes are a bit overacted. Adam Goldberg puts in the best performance as the born-again criminal Roy, which is funny considering Goldberg is half Jewish and played the lead character in “The Hebrew Hammer”. He doesn't play a large part in the movie, though he does give a strong, albeit brief, part at the end. The movie does have a decent amount of violence, but it's mostly self-inflicted. For people with issues regarding suicide, there may be some difficult scenes to watch.
"We'll finish this at the Abecrombie & Fitch, bro!"
From Within isn't a particularly bad movie, it's just not very good. The general idea for the movie is decent, though it has been done before in one form or anything. By invoking Christianity as a main theme, the movie painted itself into a corner and failed to deliver. No great commentary is made and no point is driven. Things just kind of happen and there's a sprinkling of religious fervor and that's about it. They did not explore the ideas of sin and suicide and they ignored the difficulties of suicide and high school. Even with a supernatural bent, they are still real-life issues and could have added a degree of authenticity to the movie. Instead, we get a cookie-cutter horror movie with a few mediocre scares that may be more suitable for a late night slumber party than your typical horror fan.