They’re Inside from Epic Pictures and DREAD is one of the most uncomfortable watches of the year. What starts as another home invasion movie becomes something much more terrifying. It is an emotional character study, that is more creepy than it is scary. AiPT! talked with director John Paul Paneli and co writer Schuyler Brumley about their unique horror movie.
AiPT!: How would you two describe They’re Inside?
Schuyler Brumley: The way we pitched it always was just a found footage Strangers with…
John Paul Panelli: We also kind of always thought of it just as this dark family drama with a horror element.
AiPT!: It definitely is a dark family drama. I’ll say that. Especially the tension when you see Cody holding the mic, you feel so bad for her.
Schuyler: That was actually interesting enough… that moment was pitched to me by my cousin, Luke Piotrowski. He wrote Super Dark Times. We originally had it that we knew that Cody was feeling this way during the scene but you were just seeing the scene and then Luke said, “You should have them be filming her.” So, that’s the one note my cousin got in was that one moment.
AiPT!: That’s a really good touch.
AiPT!: You said that you were kind of pitching as sort of The Strangers with found footage. Did you have any other inspirations behind the movie?
JP: Yeah, I don’t think so. As they grew over time and as The Man character kinda flourished, this might have been something that more happened in post. We ended up rewriting about 80%-90% of The Man’s dialogue that the inspiration at that point kind of shifted to fun again. Really, The Strangers were at the beginning.
Schuyler: Yeah, we didn’t want to be too…I mean, we would, the starting thing was The Strangers but we really wanted to try to make it as much of its own as we possibly could. So, those were a jumping off point and then we really wanted to just go for broke with the story in a way a found footage movie tends not to.
AiPT!: It definitely is an original take on it. It was really surprising to me, especially as we got towards the end of it there. And one of the things that kind of stands out is the pacing of the film. I wanted to ask you, since home invasion movies, they sort of tend to have a fast paced feel to them, what made you both decide to have They’re Inside have a more methodical pace?
JP: Great. Valid question.
Schuyler: Okay, so, the idea behind the methodical pace was really, as always would, you know, you’d get to know the people that are in danger before really putting them in danger. So, I did want to spend a good amount of time understanding where these girls were coming from and seem to root for them, you didn’t want to see them die. So, that was a big part of the pacing.
I also knew that eventually, I knew where it was gonna end up. I knew that it was going to be pretty dark and happy or I didn’t want to put, I didn’t want to, I wanted to be able to space out the kind of heaviness of the emotional scenes so that you weren’t, you know, hit over the head with everything at once.
And then, yeah, but then a lot of the pacing did come out in the direction how JP decided to edit it. Definitely, he definitely wanted to be a little bit more methodical and just a little bit more…because, you know, it’s always coming from the question of, “How would these people edit this movie?” You know?
And for them, we felt that they would want to, you know, they would really want to show everything happening first before they let it all, kind of blow up.
And again, that’s one thing that, you know, won’t be with more…our editor, Rich Gillian, that I tried really hard to do, is remember that in the events of the story it is really The Man who is editing this and what is the pace that he wants and also, it kind of, [inaudible 00:06:00] to adding in the footage with the rabbit and the cheetah.
JP: All that stuff was not originally in the script and even what we had shot came, I think, after four or five different edits that, and we had a discussion with, “How do we make this different? What would The Man want to do to make this stand out?”
Schuyler: Yeah, we see him kind of as a very pretentious character too, so, kind of building out all this information slowly and methodically sounds a little bit more true to the person that he is.
AiPT!: They’re Inside does not really follow the tropes of the horror genre. How important was this to you?
Schuyler: Extremely important, but I’ll let JP go into detail with that.
JP: Yeah, I mean, it was kind of number one. You know? We talked about in an earlier interview what, our thesis for making it was just, we’ve got to get across why are we watching, who edited this, and why are they still filming?
But, it’s the thing that we were both very, very concerned about, about doing found footage was the connotation that comes with it, right? When we pitch it as a found footage film, you know, everybody kind of rolls their eyes and doesn’t want to take it seriously. And it took quite a bit of convincing to just get the people that we had on board but they then sold once we got them there.
So, we really wanted to be cinematic, right? You know, there’s been a few different people that I’ve talked to, other people that’ve reviewed the film and they said, “At some point they kind of forget that it is found footage at all.” Which is great. You know, which is kind of clearly what we wanted but we don’t want people having this little idea in the back of their mind and taking that preconceived notion of what it is, so, we tried as much as possible to just, make it a movie.
JP: And then, you know, the other thing to fall back on, which Schuyler just mentioned a second ago is, because The Man was making this movie, editing it, it gave us a little bit more license to try to make it a film opposed to, just kind of, picking up a camera and capturing these moments. You know, we did want to serve the story as much as possible.
AiPT! The ending is really interesting. It’s probably gonna be talking about, one of the most talked about this year. What was your thought process in writing it?
Schuyler: The ending was, we always knew what the end end would be. I always knew that the end end would them, would be us realizing that she’s been trapped and making this movie for them But as far as that final shot, we went through…that letter that he reads to her at the end? Was rewritten so many different times. And I think the final letter definitely, I’m glad that we went through so many rewrites of it.
I mean, because we read a different letter on set than ended up being in the movie. We ended up re-filming all of The Man’s dialogue with a different actor so we had a lot of room to kind of go back a bit. “Okay, what’s not hitting? What’s not working? Why? What can make this letter just, kind of, purer?” And so, I’m glad that we got that chance because it did end up helping.
And then, JP, you know, the biggest thing for that ending would be that I always knew what was going to happen was gonna have our, Jake’s character be naked, because I wanted to put men in a vulnerable spot. A vulnerable spot in a movie, in a horror movie this time, because I feel like, we’ve put women in these vulnerable spots so many times and there’s something that is so much more uncomfortable about the male nudity now and it really stripped down. And I thought it was the easiest way to show how much they tortured him in the past, seven, eight hours at least, under their care.
So, there was a lot of things that were running through my mind through the end but it was like, really the first movie that I ever read, wrote that…the ending was always in place. And nothing really caved besides that letter.
AiPT!: This movie is filled with a lot of uncomfortable moments. What was the hardest part to write or film?
Schuyler: I think that last scene was the hardest part to film. The hardest part to write, for me, was the very end because we wanted to show how awful her life has been, you know, under their care. And I think JP’s gonna tell you the hardest part to film was the very, the second to last scene. Right, JP?
JP: The second to last scene?
Schuyler: Yeah, the letter scene.
JP: Oh, yeah, without question. I mean, it was, not only production-wise was it hard to do but, it was emotionally just a nightmare to put them through that. And they were, probably, like six or seven hours, they’d been doing this long take. It was exhausting, obviously, a lot more for them than for myself, but we had to hit certain beats and everybody has to be essentially perfect for nine and a half minutes.
And, you know, the biggest question while going into it was, “Is this practical effect going to work?” And initially, the scene that we had written, or the scene that Schuyler had written, the way that Jake dug and killed himself was with a box cutter. And, about ten minutes before he goes out there I happened to have this straight razor that a friend had given me many years ago. I just thought it looked really cool and I just kind of switched it for him on the spot and, you know, asked the special effects people if this would still work. And, they said we just had one take with him for this death. So, I was very nervous about that, it actually working. And then it did, obviously well.
AiPT!: They’re Inside is interesting in that the supporting characters are not really fleshed out but are there to give the two sisters more depth, and that’s a good thing. What made you decide to go this route?”
Schuyler: We wanted it to feel, again, as a found footage movie appeared, you know, shooting a documentary, in part to, you know, get character development out of real people, you know what I mean? So, we didn’t, it was a sense of realism that we wanted to…we wanted them to be there and we wanted them, for you to know, kind of, generally who they were as people, but, it would feel inorganic to make them, to give them too many of…
Schuyler: Yeah, so it was just, really, it came more out of feeling organic and feeling real than anything else. And, yeah, giving room to our leads was important. And understanding their journey was just more of an important thing to have for us. So, we wanted to utilize the time that we had to give them their conflict brewing.
AiPT!: How was this on your cast?
JP: Well, yeah, it was very demanding, I mean mostly for Robin and Cody. But, I can say the professionalism that they had, you know, developed into being a fairly heavy and quick shoot. They were always super upbeat, almost immediately as we, as I called ‘cut’, they could snap back out of it fairly easily.
Schuyler: Honestly, yeah, the intense moments for them also were the running and pretending like they were gonna die.
Schuyler: There’s a lot of lead up to those scenes for them.
JP: Right. There’s a lot of basically standing, you know, a few minutes, getting to the point to where you’re filled with edge. Probably, [inaudible 00:17:16].
AiPT!: How did you manage to capture the correct mood despite pacing things a little differently than a traditional horror movie?
JP: I think just luck. Schuyler’s script was what brought it, what I think the mood, the tone just happened to the world because it did. I don’t think there was anything that we were thinking day of to try to space it out.
AiPT!: My last question is, are you working on any other projects you’d like to discuss?
Schuyler: We’re working on…well, we’re each separately working on a couple by ourselves but we’re each, you know, sending to each other and looking over and giving each other notes. But, we’re working on, we have an idea for what the sequel for They’re Inside would be. We’re not actively working on that. We’re trying to get, we’re working on two other scripts together with another writer, our friend, Eva. And they’re, I mean, they’re, whatever we’re determined to be budget conscious, letting the other one work at the kind of writing off the rails to see, no constraints, what our creativity can create.