The direct-to-video 'On the Inside' starts out chillingly enough. Allen (Nick Stahl) confronts a man he believes raped his girlfriend. It's a well-filmed scene that sets a dire mood for the movie. If the movie had followed along with the moodiness of the opening sequence I think I would have liked it better. Instead it tries to become an emotional tale of prison redemption that doesn't quite work.
That opening scene is haunting though, because we know that Allen is rushing into something he's going to regret. Allen ends up killing the man, but because he's so blinded by rage he doesn't realize that it's the wrong guy. He's arrested and confined to the Northwood State Secure Treatment Facility. It's a prison facility for the mentally ill. While he isn't as crazy as many of the other inmates, Allen suffers from crippling depression that never really fades.
After time well-served, Allen is granted a transfer to a minimum security area of the facility where he has a lot more freedom to do what he wants. One of the perks of this new area is being able to meet with, and converse with the female inmates.
Mia (Olivia Wilde) is an attractive but damaged woman. She's dealing with her own issues, mainly a bipolar disorder. Mia and Allen hit it off. Of course Allen meets the best looking inmate, right? Anyway, they become friends almost instantly. They commiserate with each other's pain; they understand each other's illnesses. They serve as remedies to each other's problems, fears, and anxieties. While it's kind of hard to believe that they would be allowed to spend so much time together, they do.
Of course Allen must make a few enemies to keep the story interesting. Carl (Dash Mihok), a violent nutcase in the maximum security part of the prison, serves that purpose. He practically foams at the mouth whenever he's on screen. His part requires that he scream, threaten, and throw chairs. He does all these with the efficiency of a necessary villain.
While the first half of the movie – the murder Allen commits and his friendship with Mia – are interesting in their own right, the second half switches to prison riot autopilot. The movie isn't content with being an introspective character-driven drama about two damaged souls. Where it derails is the entire third act, an arrival that's unwelcome to say the least.
There's a much better prison drama buried beneath the surface of 'One the Inside.' The relationship between Allen and Mia is a strong driving force. All the insane, violent stuff with Carl is yawn-worthy. The two aspects clash instead of working together. At times it almost feels like two different movies.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is an Anchor Bay release. It comes in a DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack. It comes to Blu-ray on a 25GB disc. The two disc set is packaged in a standard keepcase. The case labels the movie as a Region A only release.
The drab, dank prison interior doesn't make for stunning imagery. The 1080p image does produce nice amounts of detail and clarity, but color is non-existent. This is simply a product of the setting and not really indicative of the video quality.
Close-ups feature decent detail. The movie likes its ultra-close-up shots where we feel like we're about to enter a character's nostrils. These shots, while annoying, do harbor quite a bit of fine detail. Blemishes, pores, and facial hair are clearly defined. Mid-range shots aren't as detailed. They have a softer appearance to them. At this range shadows seem to blend too much causing some mild crush in many shots.
The overall flatness of the image is an issue too. It has a decidedly low-budget flat digital look. Contrast is a little underwhelming. Colors are muted, but they're supposed to be. It isn't a bad transfer by any means. I didn't notice any terrible compression issues (there is some noise in the black areas that remains a problem). Banding and aliasing were negligible. For a direct-to-video production, this is about average quality.
The audio presentation is a step up from the video though. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is surprisingly innovative in its arrangement. The busy prison environment serves as a nice setting for some engaging surround sound activity that will please most who watch it.
Everything from alarms to the clanking of lunch trays in the prison cafeteria, the sound scape delivers some well-placed sound effects. The rear channels have some nice ambient sound like yelling inmates and blaring horns. LFE has a determined presence in the movie's musical soundtrack. It doesn't boom, so much as slowly rumble.
Dialogue is clearly defined in the front and rear channels. Even Pruitt Taylor Vince's mumbling is pretty audible for the most part. I found this to be a much more engrossing audio mix than I was expecting.
Redemption is nothing new in prison dramas. Actually, it seems like every prison drama addresses the same theme. So, 'On the Inside' doesn't bring anything new to the genre. It does introduce a compelling relationship between Allen and Mia, but becomes too obsessed with transitioning into a violent action movie instead of staying dark, moody, and introspective. The video is average and the audio is unexpectedly entertaining. I guess 'On the Inside' is worth a look if you're combing the rental queue and you can't find anything else that strikes your fancy.