Sundance Review: ‘It’s What’s Inside’

Buzzy Sci-Fi Horror Is A Party Of A Good Time And A Likely Cult Favorite

If the recent trend of horror movies is to be believed, all party games should be banned outright. Following on the heels of last year’s Sundance breakout, Talk to Me, Greg Jardin’s head-spinning identity crisis horror It’s What’s Inside offers another party game that ends in nightmarish fashion. Only this time it’s not a mummified hand dragging partygoers into the abyss. It’s bubbling jealousy, resentment, unwanted guests, and terrible secrets among a group of friends attending one’s pre-wedding rager that threatens to doom them all in a way that will have them questioning their identity and their sanity.

It’ll have you questioning a lot of shit, too. I’m not afraid to admit that I got lost more than once as It’s What’s Inside spun its wonky web. But it was that feeling of confusion that heightened the experience, along with Jardin’s dazzling visual style and several go-for-broke performances of surprising complexity. We get a sense that this will be more than your typical horror in the opening moments, as sweet-natured Shelby (Brittany O’Grady) attempts to spice up her love life with longtime boyfriend Cyrus (James Morosini) aka Cyrus the Virus, only for it to fail miserably because he’s more interested in porn than her.

So it’s a rough time to be in a bad patch relationship-wise, as they are headed to a party celebrating the nuptials of their college pal Reuben (Devon Terrell) and his fiancee Sophia, their union emblazoned forever as #Reuphia. With hopes of her own nuptials seemingly dashed, Sophia is a jumble of insecurities and nagging jealousies, many of them aimed secretly at their friend Nikki (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a gorgeous social media influencer with millions of followers. Also attending the event are their hippie pal Maya (Nina Bloomgarden), Brooke (Reina Hardesty), and the hard-partying Dennis (Gavin Leatherwood). With all of these clashing personalities and long-held grudges, the night might’ve been a thorny one anyway, but the arrival of an unexpected guest, former friend Forbes (David W. Thompson), promises it will be.

Forbes, who nobody expected to show up and isn’t exactly welcome, arrives with a suspicious green suitcase. I’m not going to spoil what’s inside because that would ruin too much of the fun. But let’s say it contains something that forces these friends to question everyone and even themselves. There’s a bit of roleplay, ironic considering how the movie begins, some mystery, and a lot of problem-solving in the vein of a live-action game of Among Us. This game brings old grudges to the surface, realigns friends into foes, and might even involve a little bit of reincarnation.

If it sounds like a lot for a little horror movie to handle, well, it is. Intentionally so. Jardin’s rapid-fire dialogue and quick camera cuts accelerate the feeling that you’re being whipped around uncontrollably. As each character reveals their ulterior motives and sheds the persona they’ve constructed, It’s What’s Inside becomes really tricky to keep track of. Who is really saying or doing what they intend, who is setting a trap, who has revenge on their mind? It’s imperative to keep track of every single word and every gesture to get a sense of what is truly going on.

As for the cast, all do a terrific job in surprisingly rich roles that require them to know every single character intimately. If there’s a problem, it’s that these people don’t give you a reason to like any of them, and this is a game where there are definite winners and losers. This becomes a bigger issue as the stakes are raised to a deadly degree, and we find that we care as little about them as they care about one another.

With the backdrop of our social media-obsessed culture, puzzling nature of the story, and gorgeous cast of rising stars, It’s What’s Inside feels destined to be a buzzy A24 acquisition, although I hope they consider a new title. This movie is just a lot of fun to watch, especially with a crowd, and will be even more fun with a group of your own friends, who might also have their own secret agendas.

It's What's Inside
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
sundance-review-its-whats-insideIf the recent trend of horror movies is to be believed, all party games should be banned outright. Following on the heels of last year's Sundance breakout, Talk to Me, Greg Jardin's head-spinning identity crisis horror It's What's Inside offers another party game that...