A solid performance from Joey King can’t stop this messy teen supernatural romance.
Young love: Sometimes it crashes into us like lapping waves hitting a picturesque beach. Other times, it’s a car wreck, leaving a mess in its wake. The In Between, Paramount+’s new teen supernatural romance, is the latter – a subpar film that can’t be resuscitated, even at the best attempts of Joey King and a solid supporting cast.
Based on a YA novel of the same name, The In Between follows teens Tessa (King) and Skylar (Kyle Allen) and their tragic summer romance. They’re teens from two different worlds – Skylar’s a hopeless romantic jock; Tessa’s a cynical photographer. When a car crash takes Skylar’s life and leaves Tessa as a survivor, she starts to see visions and encounter strange apparitions that appear to be Skylar communicating from another dimension. The movie flashes back between the early days of their romance, and the grief and supernatural that follows the accident. The In-Between feels like if Ghost crashed into Grease.
The script for The In Between is in need of an exorcism. The teens fall victim to dialogue that sounds like it was written by a middle-aged writer (the film’s screenwriter, Marc Klein, also wrote the source novel). Their meet-cute is at a small indie cinema, where Josh translates a French film for Tessa and reveals he speaks Spanish and Italian. Tessa comments, “If I could just read Dante’s Inferno in the original Italian, my life would be complete.” Later on, Skylar calls Tessa’s photo of a cell phone tower disguised as a tree “an allegory” for capitalism, unknowingly using the same language Tessa used when she presented the photo to her class. They’re also both self-described “analog” teens, preferring mixed cassette tapes to a streaming playlist. Not saying teens can’t be smart about a revered Italian poem, allegorical photos, and mixed tapes, but it all feels forced and very heavy-handed.
Arie Posin‘s direction leans into the supernatural elements, Skylar’s messages from beyond playing like straight horror. We don’t know why he possesses cell phones and car radios at random times and blasts INXS’s “Never Tear You Apart” (between this and Euphoria, this song is having a comeback). Nor do we know his intention behind possessing her pencil and causing her to scribble all over her SAT (if he speaks multiple languages, shouldn’t he be helping her ace the test?!). I’d really love to know why he endangers both Tessa and her friend Shannon (a lively Celeste O’Connor) as he takes control of Shannon’s car, nearly causing a pile-up in a busy intersection. In the afterlife, Skylar’s just a toxic poltergeist boyfriend.
One of The In Between‘s greatest limitations is that we only see the hauntings from Tessa’s side, and rely on flashbacks to infer Skylar’s motivations. We already know Skylar has issues getting over heartbreak, as in a flashback he’s frustrated his parents are getting a divorce instead of digging deeper to overcome their issues, as he does during sports competitions. Had we seen more from Skylar’s point of view as he was stuck in the middle of two worlds, we could understand why he’s aggressively haunting Tessa and preventing her from moving on.
The best thing The In Between has going for itself is King (who also produces), who knows how to dial up Tess’s lovesick grief. Tears flow as she attempts to get back to school after the incident. She’s euphoric when she realizes Skylar’s possessed her camera, appearing as an apparition when she develops her photos. Tessa also has some tender moments between her adopted parents (the always excellent Kim Dickens and John Ortiz), working her way to be a skeptical foster child to a vulnerable adopted daughter.
King finds a way to balance the ghostly horrors and gooey teen romance in The In-Between. Once just might wish she had better source material to show her range.
The In Between is currently streaming on Paramount+.