The someone’s coming from inside the house in Netflix’s latest horror offering, a masked-killer slasher with a clever enough twist: said killer’s masks are crafted to resemble each victim’s face. Based on Stephanie Perkins’ novel of the same name and counting Shawn Levy (“Stranger Things”) and James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Malignant”) among its producers, Patrick Brice’s “There’s Someone Inside Your House” stands alongside fellow Netflix release “Fear Street” and the small-screen version of “Scream” as successful, if minor, entries in a genre still trying to re-create the phenomenon of its 1980s heyday.
Our first victim isn’t the most sympathetic of figures — moments before his exceptionally bloody stabbing, the star quarterback at Osborne High is shown photographic evidence of himself violently hazing a gay teammate — leading to a split reaction at his school: His teammates are devastated, while the sarcastic, above-it-all group we follow seem none too bothered. That includes our heroine, Makani (Sydney Park), who finds herself in small-town Nebraska after a hinted-at trauma sent her packing from Hawaii.
Next on the killer’s list is the student-body president, who’s likewise presented with proof of her misdeeds in the lead-up to her violent end. A pattern thus established, the question naturally becomes which of their classmates is taking the idea of cancel culture a little too literally — and whether they’re aware of the incident that resulted in Makani’s abrupt move.
Nothing if not timely, the film’s narrative beats touch on everything from gender pronouns to defunding the police. Most original is the literal secret party where attendees attempt to disarm the killer among them by revealing their innermost truths to one another. Unfortunately for them, these confessions fall more in the category of crushes and bad poetry than anything that might compel their murderous peer to absolve them and move on without taking another life. Makani’s is a whopper: In addition to the fiery past we see glimpses of, she’s also involved with the outcast Ollie (Théodore Pellerin), whom many — including her best friend — suspect of being the killer.
As with nearly every other teen-centric slasher this side of “Scream,” “There’s Someone Inside Your House” takes great pains to avoid the unpardonable sin of sincerity — at least at first. The film’s tongue is planted firmly in its cheek, its characters occasionally act as though they know they’re in a scary movie, and you can’t tell whether you’re supposed to cringe or cheer when yet another teen is offed. “You want money?” the doomed quarterback asks moments before his demise, “because I can Venmo you, like, right now.” It’s a funny line, as are many others here, but in trying to be humorous and horrifying at the same time the film is sometimes neither.
Not that Brice and screenwriter Henry Gayden (“Shazam!”) don’t have a fine needle to thread. Ever since Wes Craven went meta with the genre he helped establish, it’s become uncool to make a slasher without winking at the audience at least once or twice. But while a bit of ironic detachment isn’t necessarily a hindrance, too many latter-day horror flicks’ attempts to show they’re in on the joke make it difficult to get invested in their stories. Despite initially appearing poised to repeat this too-cool-for-school mistake, “Someone” moves past it by emphasizing not vengeance but redemption.
This is more refreshing than it should be. Plenty of nostalgia-inflected horror films pay tribute to their forebears while adding their mark to the genre (“It Follows” may be the strongest, most evocative example), but there’s a growing sense that the genre peaked in the ’80s and there’s no sense trying to move it forward. It seems strange for a movement that wasn’t fully formed until the 1970s to have so readily embraced the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun, and the success of “Someone” hinges on the fact that it ultimately embraces the future rather than clinging to the past.