The 25th anniversary of Scream seems to be playing a big role in the Netflix horror movies of 2021, starting with the first instalment of the Fear Street series back in July, and now with a new slasher film released just in time for Halloween, There’s Someone Inside Your House. That title feels like a conscious reference to the Drew Barrymore-starring opening sequence of Wes Craven’s 1996 film, which had a chilling sense of originality, even though the movie was designed to parody the very familiarity of slasher film tropes. This was a pastiche approach that bore significant fruit in the 1990s in other genres, as Quentin Tarantino’s films also felt fresh while consciously revitalising styles that had already had their heyday.
So yes, There’s Someone Inside Your House is designed to make you think of Scream, which is the only real value that title has. There is indeed a kill that relies on the killer having snuck into the victim’s house, and as in Scream, it’s the opening kill. But given the relevance that title has to the rest of the narrative framework, the movie might just as easily be called There’s Someone Inside Your Church or There’s Someone Inside Your High School or even There’s Someone Inside Your Corn Field. The title is not supposed to identify a recurring gimmick related to the way the killer stalks or selects its victims. If anything, the narrative gimmick is, itself, to remind you of Scream.
Patrick Brice’s film can’t take credit for the title, it being an adaptation of a 2017 novel of the same name by Stephanie Perkins, though it seems likely Perkins was working the Scream angle as well. And to be fair, the film tries to distinguish itself through two other gimmicks, both of which are pretty old hat, even if dressed up using uniquely 21st century tools. The killer wears masks of his or her – or their, as the film has a transgender character – victims, creating these through a 3D printer. Then in the process of killing these victims, the killer also releases some deep dark secret about them through a text message or social media message to everyone in the rural Nebraska town of Osborne where they live. Those “whole town” distribution lists are really quite handy.
A relative newcomer to the town is Makani Young (Sydney Park), who has relocated from Hawaii to help keep her own secret about her recent past. She has befriended an improbable cross-section of students at her high school that include a gay football player, a trans student, a rich kid, a loner, a pill popper and a would-be artist, who come from a variety of racial identities, and who seem to have little in common other than their shared interest in lighting up a joint inside the rich kid’s car. There’s Someone Inside Your Head should be commended for its attempts at representation, as the realism that gets sacrificed, particularly in a heartland state like Nebraska, is the type we should want to sacrifice, especially since realism is rarely a horror movie’s strong suit in the first place.
It’s the great lengths the killer goes to that really strain credibility, in a way that once seemed an asset to a slasher film’s sense of cleverness, but now just feels labourious. It’s not only the 3D printed masks, which theoretically only have the value of freaking out the impending victim, since in most cases this victim is the only one meant to see the killer wearing that particular mask. It’s also the orchestration of these pictures and videos and other damning evidence of the victim’s own malfeasance, which are strung up around the planned kill site or DM’d at the precise moment of the victim’s death. Not only have we seen this stuff before, but the quaint twin notions that “we all have secrets” and “we all wear masks” feel like similarly well-worn territory.
Brice – director of more original horror collaborations with Mark Duplass, Creep and Creep 2 – deserves some credit for the style with which he brings this to the (small) screen. A film can only remind you of Scream if it also looks the part, and There’s Someone Inside Your House does so better than many of that film’s countless imitators. You feel you are in the presence of horror of a certain prestige level.
But then, look at any detail past the surface level and you will be disappointed. In fact, there are two consecutive kill sequences that rely on that old trope where a victim is trying to flee his or her pursuer from the other side of a thin wall, and must dodge the lunges of a large knife that continually breaks through that wall just centimetres from the victim’s frightened, bugged out eyes. Even one instance of this would have tested our patience. Two is unforgivable overkill.
As mentioned previously, Brice made better horror movies with Creep and Creep 2, but even with their comparative originality, those films also found themselves in a pretty tired horror space: found footage. There’s Someone Inside Your House illustrates the truism also shown there, which is that it’s really hard to do anything original in a genre as picked clean as horror. I don’t suppose that means you should stop trying, but neither does it mean we should lower the bar to the point where we’re giving mediocre efforts a pass.