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A fright film premiering on Lifetime Networks? Don’t let the venue put you off: Director Hanelle M. Culpepper’s WITHIN comes to the network (debuting this Saturday, July 31 at 9 p.m. EST) having won several awards, and was produced by Bigfoot Entertainment, the same outfit behind last year’s slasher sleeper MIDNIGHT MOVIE. Culpepper gave Fango the skinny on the flick, and passed on a few exclusive photos.
WITHIN stars newcomer Mia Ford as Rachel, a young girl who witnesses her mother’s murder and possesses the ability to see evil spirits dwelling inside other people. When she and her father move to a new town and she befriends a strange classmate named Michelle, Rachel begins having frightening visions as other local children start suffering violent attacks. The cast also includes Sam Jaeger, HUNGER’s Lori Heuring, Sammi Hanratty, Stacy Haiduk and Brent Sexton; WITHIN will also be available via Lifetime’s video-on-demand service starting Tuesday, August 3.
Culpepper, who has previously helmed short movies, first heard the WITHIN story when she met screenwriter Rebecca Sonnenshine (whose credits include AMERICAN ZOMBIE and THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY) at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004. “When she pitched me the story,” the director tells Fango, “I was immediately attracted to the character of Rachel—a gentle soul who doesn’t fit in with this town. I felt like I didn’t fit for most of my childhood, so I identified with her struggle. After I read the script, I knew I wanted to make it because it was a scary film with some depth—metaphors and symbolism. And there was a message, that violence doesn’t solve our problems, understanding does. It felt apropos since Bush was in office and felt the way to deal with the ‘Evil Empire’ was with war.”
Culpepper shot WITHIN in 20 days, a tight schedule made even tighter by the fact that she was working with minors as her leads. Still, she recalls, “It went very well, and I had a supportive crew who truly hustled when we needed to make our days. We were not without the usual production fiascos, but the producers did a great job of protecting me from them so that I could focus on my job. I think having kids around helps lighten things even when you have a major issue. They were all so sweet—pranksters, creative and pleasant overall.”
Culpepper was particularly impressed with young leads Ford and Hanratty, who were both nominated for Best Actress when WITHIN played last year’s Strasbourg International Film Festival in France. “They came to the process understanding their characters so deeply,” she says. “I found most of my actors through my casting directors, but Mia I discovered when she auditioned for a short film I was producing. After her reading, the director of that film and I turned to each other and said she would be perfect for my movie. She had this inner gentleness, fragility, innocence and purity that naturally emanated, more than the experienced young actresses who auditioned. And Sammi knew that even though Michelle is bad, she’s really good at the core. It was pretty impressive that she not only figured that out, but also knew to play Michelle that way so that her character didn’t become one-dimensional.”
While Culpepper was initially concerned that WITHIN “wasn’t indie enough for some festivals, not horrific enough for the horror festivals and not child-friendly enough for the kids’ festivals,” that changed when the film won a slot at the Big Bear Horror Film Festival and nabbed Outstanding Feature Film honors. “Everything picked up from there,” she says, “and I’m happy WITHIN is finally finding its way. Audiences who love films like THE SIXTH SENSE, THE GOOD SON and THE BAD SEED will really get a kick out of WITHIN. The two leads give incredible performances, and Michelle is one you’ll love to hate. I hope it gets great ratings and does well in its video release—I’d love to make a sequel!” See the movie’s official website here.
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