With Halloween almost upon us, the hunt for the next horror movie to add to our usual Samhain (pronounced sah-win) rituals is on! At least, that’s the ritual in my home. Every year, from the time I was a little goblin, my family has celebrated the spooky season with a never ending diet of horror films. After the usual trick or treating, we’d take our bag of diabetes inducing candy home and, while going through our bounty and pitching out the undesirables (walnuts, raisins, apples, the occasional toothpaste and toothbrush (someone wanted to be a smart ass)), we’d watch whatever horror movie was playing on the idiot box (an affectionate name my parents gave our TV). One year it was The Midnight Hour. Another year, it was Salem’s Lot and still another year, it was the John Carpenter classic, Halloween (albeit an edited version). When VCRs became ‘the thing’ to own, my mother would make it a point to rent the choicest horror films (with my expert knowledge of horror movies assisting her in her decision making) such as The Howling, Friday the 13th (any), The Thing and so on. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve continued that tradition with my own family only now the films I select are; Paranormal Activity, The Fly (Cronenberg’s of course!), Creepshow and many, many others. It’s safe to say that Halloween is MY favorite time of the year!
Some of the better horror films to come out of Hollywood use the Halloween holiday, specifically, as the setting for whatever horror the creators have cooked up for us. Films such as Trick ‘r Treat, the entire Halloween series and the made-for-tv movie, The Midnight Hour, use the holiday as an explanation of sorts as to why their particular protagonists are dealing with such terrifying situations! After all, Halloween is when the veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead is at it’s thinnest, allowing for all manners of ghosts, demons and monsters to wreak havoc on any poor soul they happen across. In director Michael Ballif’s 2020 feature film debut, They Live Inside Us, Halloween once again becomes the setting for a trip into terror!
They Live Inside Us stars James Morris (I Don’t Speak English), Stevie Dust (Riot), Emily Broschinsky (Fleet) and Hailey Nebeker (Nocturne) and is not only directed by Ballif but also produced and written by him, along with the aforementioned Morris. The film opens on Halloween night, as two young boys stop in front of the infamous Boothe house, the supposed site of a murder or two which occurred approximately 30yrs prior and is now purportedly haunted. After being frightened away by what appears to be someone looking out at them from the 2nd floor window, the film switches its focus to our main protagonists, Jake (Morris) and his young daughter Dani (Broschinsky), who have come to this location so that Jake, who seems to be suffering from the dreaded writer’s block, can find inspiration for his latest writing project.
As Jake begins his work, the story, quite cleverly, bounces back and forth between Jake’s imagination as he’s writing what appears to be a screenplay, to the relationship between his daughter and himself as we slowly learn that something tragic has happened to his wife and Dani’s mother, Cynthia. Throughout the rest of the film, we’re given clues as to what is haunting Boothe House and what Jake needs to do to not only save himself and his daughter, but also his own sanity.
I can’t discuss much more about the plot for fear of giving away the multiple twists that Ballif and Morris have inserted throughout their narrative. However, I will say that by the half-way point I had figured out, ultimately, where they were going with the story, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had one more twist to throw out that I didn’t see coming!
As I watched the film, I couldn’t help comparing it to other, bigger budgeted productions (especially one film in particular that I won’t mention here), but what I found to be especially unique with They Live Inside Us is that the story, while combining elements found in other popular horror films, still managed to squeeze some life out of a plot that can, if not handled correctly, come off as a tired knock-off of better material. The make-up effects were well done and expertly executed especially for a certain clown named, quite appropriately, Choppy, who comes across as a mix of Pennywise and the late Heath Ledger’s spectacular portrayal of The Joker, which is high praise indeed! The acting was better than it really had a right to be considering everyone’s rather small resume but all actors/actresses continued to impress from the opening scene of the two boys testing their courage, to the final act which again, threw me for a bit of a loop!
Overall, I’d say that They Live Inside Us has much to offer the occasionally jaded horror movie junkie! The plot moves along a bit slowly until just before the third act but, in retrospect, I understand why it had to be that way. If you’re paying close enough attention, Ballif and Morris sprinkle enough information throughout the story for you to solve the mystery of Boothe House. However, be warned; you still may have a surprise or two coming to you!