When social services agents Jenna and Karl drove out into the rural town that serves as the setting of Wayout Pictures’ Don’t Let Them In, it’s fair to say they had no idea what their night would have in store for them. When I sat down to watch the movie myself for this review, I felt the same way about mine.
Don’t Let Them In, directed by Mike Dunkin, and starring Michelle Luther and Aidan O’Neill as Jenna and Karl respectively, follows a couple of social services agents on what appears to be a routine check on a client. In this case, however, the client is a convicted child murderer called David, played by Scott Suter, who had been released from a mental institution and returned home sometime before we pick up the story. What happens next is a night of home invasion, creepy people in masks, crazy amounts of blood, and a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure.
The influence of films such as You’re Next, and The Purge is noticeable throughout the approximately 1-hour and 21-minute run time of the film, which although may falter on the pacing department at times, still doesn’t feel like a drag to watch.
As far as the acting goes, Hollywood-level performances weren’t something I was expecting when I hit “play”, and with that in mind, I’d say the acting is serviceable. However, O’Neill’s performance as Karl can become extremely annoying very early on, so much so that it threatened my enjoyment of the entire film. In my opinion, it’s a mix of who Karl is as a character, behaviors that stretch suspension of disbelief, and O’Neill’s acting—which feels way over the top and unnatural, especially next to Luther’s Jenna, who’s way more composed and behaves more realistically.
Even though I suspect that this might’ve been done on purpose, the way the film goes about it lacks subtlety (if it was intentional at all) and in doing so, may run the risk of losing the audience before it has a chance to work.
While we’re on the topic, subtlety is nowhere to be found in this film. Everything—from the opening shot of a dark forest with a sinister moon in the sky, to the on-the-nose acting, the incessant tense score running throughout the film, and most of the scares—is all in-your-face, horror-film stuff. It’s almost like the movie wants to remind you that you’re indeed watching a horror film.
But here’s the thing, halfway through the movie, I had an “a-ha!” moment. It occurred to me that maybe I had been looking at Don’t Let Them In through the wrong lens. I stopped treating the film as a serious horror experience and started to take it in as a self-aware, campy horror. After this gear shift in my brain, the experience immediately became smoother. I began to understand certain decisions and reactions of the characters, I saw the over-the-top scenes as part of a joke that I was finally in on, and lo and behold, I started having fun.
What’s interesting is that—much like the issue I mentioned before with Karl’s character—I feel that this also might’ve been intentional.
The way Don’t Let Them In handles its theme is by far the best aspect of the movie, in my opinion. It deals with expectations and how things may sometimes be different from what they seem at first glance. I wouldn’t spoil the way the movie does this, but it is a theme that shows up throughout and is explored in more ways than one, through different characters and multiple levels.
Looking back at my experience, with the way I struggled at the beginning but slowly started picking up what the movie was possibly trying to put down as I went, I feel like the theme transcended the story on screen. The idea of expectations and how life can subvert them became exemplified in how I experienced this movie.
So going back to the intro: When Jenna and Karl drove into the rural little town on the night the movie takes place, it didn’t go too smoothly for them. But after the roller coaster that my experience with Don’t Let Them In ended up becoming, I’d say my night wasn’t bad at all.
Sure the movie has its ups, downs, quirks and flaws. But don’t we all? If I learned anything from watching Don’t Let Them In is that we should indeed never judge a book by its cover. And that lesson probably goes for movies as well.
Check out Wayout Pictures’ Don’t Let Them In trailer: