Dark secrets, resentment, and jealousy raucously bubble up to the surface in writer/director Greg Jardin’s feature debut, It’s What’s Inside. A pre-wedding reunion amongst former college friends begins with easy revelry as eight gather to reminisce and imbibe in mind-altering substances. Only none knew just how mind-bending the night would become when a suitcase emerges to introduce a new party game, one that catapults the group into an identity-bending funhouse of sci-fi comedy and horror. Its irreverent tone and Jardin’s visual eye ensure a highly entertaining time, though it becomes prone to tangled knots.
The opening introduction to college sweethearts Shelby (Brittany O’Grady) and Cyrus (James Morosini) sets the manic, social media-obsessed culture and comedic tone as the pair bicker over a botched attempt to rekindle the passion in their relationship. Shelby’s sweet intentions are undermined by insecurities and suspicions that Cyrus isn’t entirely being truthful with her. Attempts to work through their issues get waylaid by the encroaching nuptials of Reuben (Devon Terrell), who wants to celebrate the final night of bachelorhood at his mother’s quirky mansion with his old partying pals.
Joining the mix are Instagram influencers Nikki (Alycia Debnam-Carey), new-age hippie-type Maya (Nina Bloomgarden), artist Brooke (Reina Hardesty), and pot-stirrer Dennis (Gavin Leatherwood). The group has just enough time to start getting sloppy over joints and wine, exposing former trysts and secret pining between them when one final unexpected guest shows up: Forbes (David W. Thompson). Considering how Forbes left the group last, all are surprised by his appearance. That’s quickly forgotten when Forbes breaks out a suitcase and suggests a party game to really kick the night into high gear.
The details of what the suitcase contains will be withheld for the sake of preserving this wacky funhouse’s surprises, but it’s safe to say that it plunges the eight friends and frenemies into a bizarre sci-fi odyssey that leaves each questioning their identity and desires. The longer the night wears on, the more tangled the dynamics become. So, too, do the complications- emotional and physical- that will irrevocably change their lives.
Jardin captures the madness with a manic energy befitting of this vapid bunch. The camera doesn’t stop, circling and swerving around its characters to match and then enhance their liveliness. Brick cuts only further add to the high-octane tone. The rapid-fire dialogue fits the characters perfectly, but it is also necessary for the complex plot. Jardin packs a lot into It’s What’s Inside, juggling eight flawed characters and letting them loose within one vibrant mansion oddity. The film’s title isn’t referring to Forbes’ box of tricks but the people behind their carefully curated masks. Keeping track of who’s who and who they truly are is made all the trickier once the sci-fi elements get introduced. Jardin deftly prevents audiences from getting lost through careful plotting and visual clues, though the interpersonal dramas threaten to obscure. The director pulls from his music video background to ensure a vivacious, eye-catching feature that dazzles and lures you further into the tangled abyss, even as many of its central players frustrate.
The ensemble cast makes easy work of blurring those lines and preventing the ambitious concept from veering straight into impenetrable territory. While allegiances shift and blur between them, escalating the stakes in the process, audiences will find a tougher time finding rooting interest in most of this self-absorbed bunch. That some of the pertinent details unlocking this puzzle box come at such warped speed means that certain plot points are too underserved for the coda to land its intended impact.
Even still, It’s What’s Inside is pure fun. Moreover, it’s extremely funny. Jardin assembles an ensemble willing to push their frequently and intentionally insufferable characters past the point of insanity for our entertainment. On that front, Jardin’s debut is a stunning success. It’s a twisty puzzle box that demands your attention to avoid missing crucial minutiae, but it rewards through saturated colors, meticulous visual plotting, and an irreverent tone. Not all the pieces fully come together, but Jardin’s ambitious debut will easily earn a devout following for its creative setup and commitment to bonkers fun.
It’s What’s Inside premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.