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Sundance movie review: Obnoxious style overwhelms 'It's What's Inside'

Alycia Debnam-Carey stars in "It's What's Inside." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Alycia Debnam-Carey stars in "It's What's Inside." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- It's What's Inside, which screened Tuesday at the Sundance Film Festival, has a clever premise and cast that pulls it off. However, the film's style is so aggressive, that it is at odds with the story.

Eight former college classmates reunite for a wedding party. Tech genius Forbes (David Thompson) brings a suitcase and the filmmakers asked critics not to reveal what is inside.

This is a mistake. The contents of the suitcase are not a twist. They are the premise of the movie.

There are legitimate twists later in the film that should not be spoiled. The premise of the movie is not new. It's the execution that's different.

When you say the only way this movie works is if you don't know what it's about, you've got nothing. Besides, it is a concept that was especially popular in movies of the '80s but never went out of style.

Brittany O'Grady stars in "It's What's Inside." File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI
Brittany O'Grady stars in "It's What's Inside." File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI

It's also the only good part of the movie. The actors do a great job pulling the concept off but alas, touting their quality work now constitutes a spoiler.

Writer/director Greg Jardin should have trusted the cast to convey this concept. Everything else undercuts their work.

Alycia Debnam-Carey plays Nikki in "It's What's Inside." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Alycia Debnam-Carey plays Nikki in "It's What's Inside." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

The film employs split screens for no reason. If there are only two people in a scene, the frame should not split in half when the characters could just as easily share one frame.

When characters tell the backstory of how Forbes fell out with them in college, they narrate a series of still photographs cut busily together. The camera pushes in or spins until everything is blurry and then keeps spinning.

Brittany O'Grady plays Shelby in "It's What's Inside." File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI
Brittany O'Grady plays Shelby in "It's What's Inside." File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI

Editing is also hyper, coupled with grating sounds. For example, there are three shots of a character putting a car in drive.

Music is also louder than all the dialogue. Viewers can turn their volume down when watching at home, but it will still be frustrating to hear the dialogue, which is still overlapping at that.

Greg Jardin wrote and directed "It's What's Inside." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Greg Jardin wrote and directed "It's What's Inside." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Characters keep talking over each other, whether reuniting in the same room or having one-on-one moments. This is accurate to how large groups function, but it's no less grating in a movie.

Perhaps the film can be refined before its ultimate release. As it premiered at Sundance, It's What's Inside is a bombastic vision where restraint was more appropriate.

Netflix will release It's What's Inside.

Note: This story was updated to avoid spoilers and add context.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.