A good religion-based horror film is hard to come by. For every FRAILTY, there’s always a LOST SOULS, BLESS THE CHILD and STIGMATA that precedes it. FROM WITHIN, the latest effort from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (W, 3:10 TO YUMA), employs the often-used subject of fanaticism, which, in theory, should work since almost everyone hates fire-and-brimstone practitioners. However, much like a lot of its contemporaries, the religious aspect does nothing but work side-by-side with terrible acting and poor writing to deliver a ham-fisted message of an otherwise interesting subject.
Grovestown is your typical Bible-belt town, where the church rules over everything and anything that doesn’t fit into their definition of normal is considered satanic and must be “dealt with” in the name of God. After the suicides of Sean (Shiloh Fernandez) and Natalie (Rumer Willis), the town accuses Sean and Aiden’s (Thomas Dekker) family of putting a curse on the town for their mother’s death a few years prior, after she was unjustly convicted of killing a local. Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) comes to Aiden’s rescue after being beat up by her boyfriend, Dylan (Kelly Blatz), who spouts out one-liners like, “Thy pain is thy cleansing”, as a justification for harming others as part of God’s will.
Befriending Aiden costs Lindsay her reputation and she soon becomes the town outcast, being ridiculed and shunned by everyone, including her alcoholic stepmother, Trish (Laura Allen). As more and more suicides begin to pile up in Grovestown, Lindsay uncovers the truth behind the mysterious deaths and must help Aiden stop a curse that, if allowed to run its full course, could very well bring about the apocalypse.
FROM WITHIN isn’t attempting to reinvent the wheel with its secret-in-a-small-town angle, nor is it trying to tackle the concept of fundamentalists vs. outcasts in a way that hasn’t been done similarly or better in the last 10 years, and that’s the problem. I get that as long as people unjustly persecute others simply because they’re different, we’re going to get films like FROM WITHIN until the end of time, and I’m okay with that, as long as they give me something to latch onto: compelling characters, good performances, an interesting twist, or, really, just anything to make it different. FROM WITHIN feels so determined to just be an average, run-of-the-mill X-FILES episode, without Mulder and Scully, that I can’t help but hold its plain-Jane attitude against it. The chemistry between the characters feels forced and unconvincing, with the actors delaying their reactions in a manner that is the exact opposite of the phrase, “cat-like reflexes.” The supernatural element of the film is heavily influenced by J-Horror, creating a JUON and RINGU-like scenario, and even going as far as to give it the appearance of the SHUTTER entity. The plot points are particularly lazy and uninspired, as two of the characters are placed in the film just long enough to move the entity from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, while we’re left scratching our heads as to if there was ever another reason to use them, other than to be cannon fodder.
FROM WITHIN continues After Dark’s trend of buying up horror films that aren’t necessarily bottom-of-the-barrel offerings, as much as they’re undaring and mediocre (i.e. stuff that no one else would buy). Usually AD manages to produce one diamond in the rough per Horrorfest, but this one certainly isn’t it.