Though the title may suggest yet another comedy of teen mores, the murky, unappealing “The In Crowd” is a femme-centered melodrama that makes an awkward stretch into thriller territory. Telling of a troubled young woman whose attempt to get her life together draws her into conflict with a jaded collegiate set and its scheming queen bee, pic’s main mystery is how such a pulpy genre item cast with unknowns made it onto Warners’ summer slate. Headed rapidly for the B.O. out box, it could find vid glory as a lesbian cult item.
Set in lowlands South Carolina, story’s opening plays like the Roger Corman version of “Girl, Interrupted.” Adrien (Lori Heuring) has been confined to a mental hospital for “erotomania,” but apparently she’s been on good behavior, because sympathetic Dr. Thompson (Daniel Hugh Kelly) arranges for her probationary work release to a job at a seaside country club.
There she walks into the social snake pit of a circle of rich, college-age friends who vacation together every summer. Their leader Brittany (Susan Ward), a commanding, cosmetically perfect brunette, befriends Adrien in a way that’s immediately suspicious. At first, it seems erotic; Brittany has a gal pal, Kelly (Laurie Fortier), who’s clearly got a crush on her and who’s seething with jealousy as soon as Adrien arrives.
But there’s also a hint that Brittany wants to keep Adrien out of the embrace of handsome Matt (Matthew Settle), the one guy around who Brittany keeps at arm’s length. Eventually Adrien discovers that her rich playmate has other oddities in her closet: Her sister, Matt’s girlfriend, went off on a foreign vacation from which she never returned, and it seems that Brittany’s sending postcards home in her name.
Tale’s elements are far too broad and one-dimensional to qualify as satire or social comment. Given that, it’s perhaps inevitable that the truth about Brittany turns out to be nasty indeed. She’s not just a self-centered debutante but a sly psychopath who isn’t above murdering friends and family to get her way. All of which points Adrien and the viewer toward the one thing that astute genre fans will see coming from early on: a climactic cat fight royale.
Pic’s young cast is generally fine, but formulaic nature of the material allows for few standouts. One exception is Susan Ward, whose strong, focused work makes Brittany a memorably monomaniacal vixen.
Helmer Mary Lambert’s handling proves competent, nothing more. Overall, pic feels cheap and by-the-book, with a dull, dark look and tech credits that seldom rise above the so-so.