I love a twisted party-horror flick like Talk to Me, Bodies Bodies Bodies, or the incredibly underrated +1 (aka Plus One but not the Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine movie), which might explain my adoration of Greg Jardin’s It’s What’s Inside. You might recognize the title for its astounding $17 million sale to Netflix out of Utah’s Sundance Film Festival, which is money well spent for the streamer. Jardin writes, directs, and edits a shifty yet cleanly conveyed science fiction thriller that feels akin to the functional simplicity of Shane Carruth’s Primer meets a boozy [redacted as per filmmaker and studio wishes]. Filmmakers who’ve tackled similarly fantastical concepts have stumbled over needlessly complicated narratives, while Jardin focuses on digital-age comedics and dire consequences that entertain with ease.

We first meet struggling couple Shelby (Brittany O'Grady) and Cyrus “The Virus” (James Morosini): stagnant, physically starved "lovers" who get into heated arguments about when to have sex. They’re our introduction to a friend group set to convene before groom Reuben’s (Devon Terrell) wedding, staying overnight at the mansion he inherited that will serve as the event’s venue. Also attending are trust fund slacker Dennis (Gavin Leatherwood), “exotic” scene-girl artist Brooke (Reina Hardesty), megastar online influencer Nikki (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and spiritual goddess Maya (Nina Bloomgarden). Last to arrive is wild card Forbes (David W. Thompson), who brings with him a briefcase and suggests they play a game. What kind of game? That’s for you to find out when the film releases (date unknown).

Jardin’s opening montage of Instagram scrolls as characters toast to Reuben’s wedding with hashtagged posts isn’t just surface-glamor generational energy. Social media creates false internet idols like Nikki, who appear to have perfect lives. Users carefully curate their feeds for mass fawning to the point where followers daydream about living someone else’s lifestyle. It’s What’s Inside presents intoxicated and drugged characters that exact opportunity, challenging psychological insecurities and unspeakable temptations. Jardin dangles a dangerous carrot in front of so-called friends with secret crushes and shady histories, as the story becomes a social experiment about who caves first. Shelby and Cyrus’ relationship is already crumbling; Forbes has every reason to seek revenge; anyone would kill to hijack Nikki’s selfie-curating career — all it takes are unpredictable human impulses to ruin everyone’s night. 

In that regard, Jardin takes a cue or two from Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ predatory and scathing influencer horror flick Sissy.

It’s What’s Inside has an incredible sense of humor about the night’s wicked derailment, starting with Cyrus’ portrayal of a toxic-as-ever boyfriend who Morosini does a tremendous job portraying as a grade-A dickhead. Cyrus' blatant mistreatment isn’t a punchline, more his moronic attempts to skirt blame and Shelby’s curt dismissals of Cyrus’ actions. Jardin described his film to South by Southwest attendees as an anti-romantic comedy, joking about how Netflix will pay for couples counseling for any date-nighters in the audience, and he’s right. It’s What’s Inside is an accomplished ensemble piece, but at its core is Shelby and Cyrus’ tanking relationship, depicting the ease with which puppy love becomes stale imprisonment and how hurt people hurt people. This is the less “fun” element of Jardin’s commentary, although Morosini and O'Grady still sell entertainment over sadness.

What’s more devilishly funny is everyone’s choices during gameplay. Jardin doesn’t skimp on delicious drama, like a masquerade party where anonymity becomes a shady and seductive high. Comedy stylings promote impressions as actors mimic each other’s mannerisms, cutely selling friends ribbing one another until the inevitable “uh oh” moment occurs — then everything gets nastier. Reactionary chuckles turn from innocent jokes about out-of-body experiences to uncomfortable acknowledgments of how deep down the rabbit hole some are willing to descend. Liars, cheaters, and thieves cannot resist the chance to start over or capitalize on lusty desires, which Jardin plays accessibly straight. The story only lags between the last two-thirds when nitty-gritty conversations about how climaxes will conclude take over, but otherwise, the concept’s absurd potential is realized with gleefully destructive entertainment values and a mighty grasp on sustained tension.

Jardin also produces an exceptionally stylish and sexy-looking film, which is unsurprising given his music video experience. Reuben’s playboy estate is complete with disco-like mirror rooms, his mother's overtly vaginal sculptures, and glowing signs that spell out “TRAUMA,” not hesitating to say the quiet part out loud. He also plays a clever trick with red lighting, much like developing pictures in a dark room. A clear delineation between the regularly neon-colored infusions of blues, greens, and purples versus a stoplight-colored filter pauses the game for us at home. You’ll get your mind-freaky moments, but not at the expense of fluid storytelling.

Netflix has a banger on their hands with It’s What’s Inside. Jardin’s reinvention of parlor games for the rich and selfish is a crowd-pleaser with sharpened teeth as wolves reveal themselves. An all-star cast stays atop their game as tones evolve from playful to devious to downright diabolical, pushing through slower portions where Jardin’s approach momentarily glitches and dips in energy. It’s What’s Inside is otherwise addictive, corrosive, hilarious, and clever in equal parts, letting characters play with fire until everyone is sufficiently burned. We love a genre hybrid that nails every aspect, especially when creations feel like they have never been seen before.

Movie Score: 4/5

  • Matt Donato
    About the Author - Matt Donato

    Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.