The spirit of “Ghost” literally haunts “The In Between,” a romance about two high school students whose love affair is tragically cut short, including a cameo by the poster for the 1990 blockbuster which starred Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. This time, the star-crossed lovers are teenagers — Tessa (Joey King) and Skylar (Kyle Allen) — who are involved in a car accident in the movie’s first scene. Skyler is killed and Tessa is hospitalized with a critical injury to her heart, an example of the film’s less-than-subtle use of metaphors.
Using a split timeline, “The In Between” alternates between the past, recounting how Tessa and Skylar fell in love, and the present, in which the grieving Tessa starts to believe her late boyfriend is trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave.
The teens meet at a revival screening of Jean-Jacques Beneix’s 1986 tale of amour fou, “Betty Blue,” in which they are the only two people in the theater (the film was shot during the COVID pandemic). When Tessa complains the French-language film doesn’t have subtitles, Skylar sits next to her and starts to translate every line of dialogue. By the end of the movie, they are holding hands.
Tessa, a guarded and withdrawn orphan who remains distant from her adoptive parents, doesn’t trust people easily. She’s a budding photographer who keeps the world at bay through the lens of her camera. But she is disarmed by the handsome and polite boy who speaks three languages, has read Wharton and Austen, and is a member of their school’s rowing team. He also happens to be a lifeguard — a living embodiment of boyfriend-lottery jackpot.
Meanwhile, in the present-day, Tessa starts receiving messages that suggest Skylar is trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave. Mysterious photos she never took develop and then disappear in her darkroom. INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart,” a song she and Skylar loved, starts playing on her cellphone during class. In dreams, Skylar appears to her and says, “I’m still here.” But what does he want, and how will Tessa communicate with him?
“The In Between” was written by Marc Klein (“Serendipity,” “Mirror Mirror”) and directed by Arie Posin (“The Face of Love”) with an utter lack of guile that its intended young-teen audience will relish (the movie is streaming exclusively on Paramount Plus). The filmmakers occasionally make baffling choices, such as a PG-13-rated but still surprising sex scene that feels out of place, considering this is the kind of movie in which fireworks go off in the sky when the couple shares their first kiss.
King, who co-produced the film and is best known for Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth” trilogy, and Allen, who played one of the Jets in “West Side Story” and will next suit up as He-Man for a live-action adaptation of “Masters of the Universe,” make an appealing couple, even if they look more like college juniors than high schoolers. The movie is at its best during the flashback scenes detailing their genuinely tender romance. It fares less well when they are separated and inhabit different realms.
The patronizing ending of “The In Between” feels like a cheat — a sugar-coated finale to what is essentially a bittersweet tragedy — and contradicts the David Foster Wallace epigraph that opens the movie, “Every love story is a ghost story.” The film also takes an inordinately long time to get there. But it’s hard to imagine its target audience complaining over such modest, forgettable slumber-party fodder.