Parents worried that their teens will turn into couch potatoes over the long upcoming summer vacation won’t think twice about renting writer/director Jeff Mahler’s claustrophobic thriller Inside. Not only will teens be thrilled to see a freaky independent feature starring Heroes actor Nicholas D’Agosto and Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester, but after the roughly ninety minute surprisingly gore-free psychological chiller is over, teens won’t be able to get outside fast enough.
The film, which makes the most of the beige and seemingly unspectacularly bland Arizona sun stars D’Agosto as Alex, a criminally curious and seemingly friendless young adult library worker who takes to following strangers to learn more about their lives. Much like the main character in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant overlooked sleeper Following, Alex makes an equally peculiar and far bolder acquaintance in the form of Josie (Meester), the perky, attractive, bored little rich girl turned kleptomaniac who steals anything that isn't nailed down to try and get a rise out of her psychologist father.
When Alex finds himself drawn to a perpetually depressed couple who check out the same library book every month, he begins to follow them and fearlessly lets himself into their home only to get caught in the process. However, instead of dialing 911, Mark and Alice Smith (Kevin Kilner and Cheryl White) are struck by Alex’s uncanny resemblance to their recently deceased son Timmy and end up sharing the evening with him.
After Alex is hit by a car upon his departure from their home the following day, the Smith’s decide to take care of the young man themselves, being that he has no parents of his own and lacks health insurance. However, Alice’s adage that “nothing is worse off after someone has cared for it,” is called into question by both Alex and audiences fairly quickly when the couple begin to feel that not only do they have a second chance at taking care of a son but perhaps Alex is Timmy after all.
Soon Nolan’s Following evolves into Reiner’s Misery as Alice begins conditioning Alex to act like her lost son and it gets increasingly more frightening by the minute. However, much to the director’s credit, instead of going for cheap thrills and gore, much like the foreign works With a Friend Like Harry, Cache and modern thrillers from Chabrol, he manages to spill little blood and instead keeps the darkest violence behind closed doors, injecting terror into the most seemingly innocuous scenes as Alex strives to choose Timmy’s favorite Monopoly piece or plant a flower in Alice’s garden.
While the progression of Josie’s dubious interest into Alex’s disappearance seems to occur a bit quickly givent he fact that, to audiences (unless scenes were left on the cutting room floor), they spent very little time together, we’re nearly driven mad with apprehension until she starts to try and intervene on Alex’s behalf. Although the concluding standoff is poorly executed with a surprising lack of fear in the younger characters’ reactions and would’ve benefited from better editing to pare it down almost ten minutes, it’s still a terrifically haunting little creepfest. Once Inside reaches its final credits, it will drive you outside, not just to get out there in the sunlight but also to start telling others about the crazy film you’ve just seen.