Inner Demons opens with an interesting premise on an old horror favorite: demonic possession. We have a camera crew following around a sixteen-year-old addict named Carson, much in the style of Intervention, as she sits through interviews with her family, and finally the difficulties of rehab – only things don’t seem to be getting any better. If anything, Carson seems to be getting strangely violent…
The premise that the symptoms of drug addiction and demonic possession are so similar as to be mistaken for each other is interesting – or would be, if the film had actually gone in that direction. Instead, it’s very clear from the onset that what is happening to Carson is something far more malicious and demonic. If Inner Demons was really interesting in exploring the metaphor of drug addiction as possession – of whatever kind – it could have been sharper if some of Carson’s strange behavior also showed up in the other rehab patients. Instead there is a distinct divide between Carson and the rest of the group – something is going on with her that is clearly not going on with them.
Inner Demons is well acted and shot well, though it doesn’t add anything new to the found footage horror niche. It opens with an interesting premise and what seems to be a nuanced portrayal of addiction, and the sort of reality television that exploits the families of addicts who cannot afford expensive rehab treatments on their own. The first act was my favorite by far, with the interactions between the audience stand in, a naïve young film student who operates the camera, and the more jaded members of the crew who view the whole thing as just another paycheck.
Sadly, Inner Demons slips into clichés all too soon and while the film might have nuanced things to say about addiction, its portrayal of mental illness isn’t nearly so balanced. When it becomes apparent that Carson’s behavior has made her dangerous to others, the rehab suggests moving her to a psychiatric facility. The film treats this as a horrible tragedy, because Carson might not be crazy now, but gosh, she will be after that! Because obviously mental hospitals are terrible places and there is no worse fate than being trapped with all the crazy people – a fate the film even suggests is worse than demon possession.
This isn’t unique to Inner Demons. It shows up in horror all the time. Mental hospitals are Bad Places in horror films, and people with mental illness are too often portrayed as killers rather than human beings. Never mind the fact that a person with a mental illness is far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit one – a fact that media of all kinds like to overlook. Now, I am not suggesting that horror is not a good place to talk about mental illness. I think some of the most thoughtful and honest stories about disability and illness, including mental illness, have been told through horror. Speaking from my own experiences, dealing with mental illness is scary. Horror can be a way for people to talk about their experiences, to put names to feelings or even just create a picture of what it feels like to exist in a world that does not want people who aren’t neurotypical. If I want to explain what a panic attack feels to someone who doesn’t experience anxiety issues, I point them to the tunnel scene in Catacombs. Horror can and should be a place to talk about uncomfortable things, including mental illness. However, I think that the people who experience these things should be the ones telling the story, so as not to end up with tone-deaf moments like the one I mentioned above with Inner Demons. I doubt the film intended to make a statement about mental illness in that way, but that doesn’t change the impact of that scene. A film capable of giving a rounded portrayal of addiction should be able to discuss mental illness in a respectful way as well. To do otherwise is disrespectful, whether or not it was intentional.
The other part of Inner Demons that rubbed me the wrong way, so to speak, was the relationship between Carson and the young cameraman who acts as the audience surrogate. It reminded me a lot of the dynamic between the cameraman and the young psychic in The Quiet Ones. However the relationship was intended, this is a minor with a drug addiction flirting with an older man who is in a position of authority over her. It has the air of a rescue romance, which the other characters even comment on, and not a relationship of mutual respect. It doesn’t humanize the characters. It’s just creepy. It also makes the cameraman’s actions to prove Carson’s demonic possession seem to be made less out of concern, and more out of a desire to “rescue” her from the big, bad demon – in a way that leaves her completely dependent on him. He even shoots her up with heroin! Think about that for a second. He shoots up a drug addict in a rehab clinic – without her consent. Oh yes, he does this while she’s sleeping. The action makes sense within the film, but none of the characters call him out on how creepy and inappropriate that is.
In another story, his actions would have cast him as the villain. In this one, he’s the tragic hero. Inner Demons doesn’t appear to see anything wrong with this.
Inner Demons is a decent entry to the demonic possession and found footage horror subgenre. It’s decent, the offensives don’t appear to be intentional, and the first act is an excellent example of a slow, subtle payoff. I think the film’s issues are worth discussing in terms of their larger impact and inspiration from within the genre, but Inner Demons doesn’t do anything new. See it if you want, but don’t expect too much.