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Horror Comedy IT'S WHAT'S INSIDE Shocks and Entertains

A woman looks into a cracked mirror
Image Courtesy of Sundance

By Dolores Quintana

I was sworn to secrecy by the writer and director of IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE, Greg Jardin, as was the rest of the audience about the premise of the film at the premiere at The Sundance Film Festival. I can say that IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE is a hip horror comedy with science fiction elements. The synopsis says, “A pre-wedding party descends into an existential nightmare when an estranged friend shows up with a mysterious suitcase.” Actor and director Colman Domingo is one of the film’s executive producers. 

The film is witty and vicious, with a crackerjack premise that I would liken to a 21st-century CLUE. It stars Brittany O'Grady, James Morosini, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Devon Terrell, Gavin Leatherwood, Reina Hardesty, Nina Bloomgarden, David W. Thompson, and Madison Davenport. This is a believable circle of friends who alternately love, lust, and hate each other. 

Horror fans will immediately recognize Alycia Debnam-Carey from her work during the eight seasons of "Fear the Walking Dead.” She makes her mark as a selfish and class-conscious influencer who only thinks of her online reputation and breaks out of the mold that her role on FTWD set for her. 

The cast’s biggest standout is David W. Thompson, who has previously starred in “Fear Street Part One: 1994” and two of director Jeremy Saulnier’s films, Blue Ruin and Green Room. He plays the group’s outsider character, who is also a genius. His character, Forbes, is also the primary source of the conflict within the group, and he gives a tremendous charismatic performance of someone who was a nerd in high school but became a tech master of the universe. The multi-ethnic cast was well chosen. 

I promised not to go too deep into the plot because of the oath I took at the Eccles Theater. Still, reality television fans will recognize the group dynamics of friends who are, on the surface, devoted to each other but constantly snipe and plot against each other with secret loves and lusts. If you’re a fan of "Vanderpump Rules," you know what I am talking about. The Sundance 2024 theme of women finding the strength to defy overbearing men is definitely happening in IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE.

It’s a very clever and funny film that burbles until it hits a shocking moment that you might guess will happen but is nonetheless disturbing when it does. It is a bit of a stomach drop when you realize the consequences of the group’s unwise actions. It’s another example of people who wanted to have a great time and, in doing so, ended up causing severe damage that none of them expected. It’s also the kind of damage that no one can really repair. It echoes an earlier incident in their lives and again throws the group into disarray. 

The meaning of the film's title will become much clearer after you watch it. It addresses issues of identity and the self, especially within a group dynamic, regarding the demands of your friends who want one thing when the self demands something else. Forbes's character is an excellent example of this conflict. Do you embrace the group's demands, or do you become your own person within a group at risk of being rejected by the group? The film’s promotional picture uses the symbolism of a cracked mirror, so I think it’s appropriate to discuss that part of the film. 

Kevin Fletcher's cinematography uses darkness, mirrors, and vividly colored gels. Because the majority of the film takes place at night, it becomes dark after a certain point as the people explore the house. Concerning many complaints about certain films being “too dark,” this film flirts with a lot of darkness, but everything is well-lit enough to see what is happening. 

Andrew Hewitt, who composed the soundtracks for Villains, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Mojave, created the film's score, which doesn’t infringe too much on the proceedings and compliments the action. 

IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE is a sleek and smart horror comedy where the horror sneaks up on you. Director Greg Jardin has hit the target with a terrific ensemble and standout performances. It’s entertaining and has a great and horrifying premise. Shortly after Sundance, the film was sold to Netflix, so you can watch it on the streaming service in the future. 

IT'S WHAT'S INSIDE had its World Premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.


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