Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Seth Grossman
Writer: Glenn Gers
Producer: Robin Schorr
Stars: Lara Vosburgh, Morgan McClellan, Colleen McGrann, Christopher Parker, Katie Whitney, Brian Flaherty, Richard Wilkinson, John Cragen, Susan Ateh
A reality television show documenting a heroin addict’s recovery learns that their subject may be a victim of demonic possession.
Reality TV shows about addiction interventions are accustomed to featuring wayward souls battling demons of the figurative variety. It is just as common for the addicted to assign spurious blame for their troubles, including making claims of being inhabited by evils beyond their control. For the crew of “Step Inside Recovery,” the tortured tale of teenage heroin addict Carson Morris takes a literal turn into devil confrontation territory when Carson’s assertion that she is possessed turns out to be more than a junkie’s crazed delusion.
This development comes as a horrifying shock to Carson’s Christian family and to the incredulous crew recording what was supposed to be a young girl’s rehab facility recovery. For an audience watching the tumult unfold from the other side of the lens, it comes as a belabored plot point in a predictable movie certain to drown in a sea of similar takes on a straightforward story of possession, exorcism, and projectile vomiting.
“Inner Demons” is far from the first demonic possession thriller to format itself as “found footage,” arriving four years after “The Last Exorcism” (review here) and two years after “The Devil Inside” (review here). It’s not even the first “found footage” possession horror film of 2014, sharing that overcrowded space alongside “Chasing the Devil” (review here) and “The Possession of Michael King” (review here).
The hook is that “Inner Demons” is presented with the premise of beginning as a faux reality television episode. In the film’s director’s chair sits Seth Grossman, working in somewhat familiar territory, having previously served as a producer for a handful of “Intervention” episodes on A&E. “Inner Demons” isn’t unique in this regard either. “Delivery: The Beast Within” (review here) employs the same conceit for its demonic pregnancy “found footage” film, and does so with greater success in both the scares and believability departments.
The “Intervention”-esque styling does more to hinder than it does to help. “Inner Demons” is so committed to its angle that half of the runtime is allotted to fulfilling the reality TV illusion. Aside from the usual video corruption flickers when the evil presence flashes, or causes Carson to growl in strange voices, it takes two-thirds of the film for someone other than the TV crew’s neophyte P.A. to consider Carson may be telling the truth. That’s a long wait for the onscreen characters to play catch up to something the viewer knows is coming before the movie even begins.
Ancillary characters are introduced at length in group therapy counseling sessions only to disappear before contributing any meaningful purpose. Plentiful behind-the-scenes footage of candid moments in between interviews seems purposed mainly to establish insufferable personalities for the group of backbiting crewmembers and arrogant mental health professionals. Glenn Gers’ screenplay puts more emphasis on selling the setup than it does on engaging with its story.
The reality show veneer is undercut by acting that is mostly good, but comes from a cast of players that look like headshots in human form instead of authentic friends, family, or film crew professionals. Christopher Parker as Carson’s father, for instance, is very good at swelling his eyes with deep-rooted, choked up trouble, but there is always a twinkle of stagecraft-inspired intensity. Lara Vosburgh is tough to rate as Carson, since the movie isn’t interested in developing her second identity beyond a direction to sneer with head down and eyes up.
When an end title card crediting Michelle Trachtenberg as the Costume Designer provides the first instance of surprise and alert eyes, that says a lot about a movie’s inability to pique a viewer’s interest. For the record, IMDB alters this credit to Mishka Trachtenberg. Buffy’s little sister has not in fact picked up a needle and thread in a professional capacity.
An errant soccer ball kicked against a window and a popping light bulb provide the movie’s best scares, and those are moments not even contextual to the story. “Inner Demons” ends on an unexpectedly grisly climax, but the road it takes getting there is filled with half-formed ideas about the nature of Carson’s possession (something about high-schoolers goofing around with a grimoire), and the typical clichés culled from every demonic spirit movie since “The Exorcist” (speaking in Latin, inexplicably knowing personal secrets, a foreigner with folklore from the homeland, etc.) Everything “Inner Demons” sets out to do has not only been done before, it has been done better.
Review Score: 40