It was the poster that got my attention: a pentagram of syringes and cocaine. I thought, “Well, this is something new.” And when I saw the trailer, I could best describe its quality as that of a deranged shark.
I’d seen films of demonic possession before, classics like The Exorcist, Stigmata, and Repossessed. I felt familiar with the conventions of the genre. 2014’s Inner Demons is a whole other animal with a gifted cast led by Lara Vosburgh, Aquarius‘s Morgan McClellan, and Ashley Sutton (GEICO’s Red Riding Hood, not the British race car driver).
Documented by a reality TV crew, Carson Morris (Vosburgh) enters rehab when her drug addiction terrifies her parents and best friend McKee Littlefield (Sutton). Only filmmaker Jason Hurwitz believes her story that she’s demonically possessed, and deprived of drugs, the demon emerges and wreaks havoc.
Inner Demons is an interesting inversion of expectations. Instead of the demon taking over and destroying Carson, she’s a willing addict. The story kicks into high gear once Carson enters rehab, building on the notion that evil is what you bring with you. While her fellow patients tease her and think it’s all a publicity stunt, we wait with bated breath knowing they’re in greater danger than they realize.
Carson is sullen and desperate. She’s trying to deal with her problem alone, but her solution is killing her. Vosburgh switches effortlessly from frightened teenager to a force of chaos. We feel we’re one scene away from watching her commit cannibalism. We feel the weight of her struggle, the weeks and months she’s endured at the demon’s mercy. We can tell from the look on her face and the roughness in her voice that she’s thought of suicide as an escape, and root for her for having the strength to live.
As Jason, McClellan is the audience surrogate. He’s freaked out when he realizes Carson really is possessed. He also helps as best as he can even though he knows he’s in way over his head, going as far as performing an exorcism himself on Carson with instructions from the internet.
Sutton is chameleonic as McKee. She’s a convincing friend, and the revelation that she picked on Carson is unexpected. The fact that she can project a glowing aura while admitting the wrongs she’s done is a testament to her ability as an actress.
In a time when monster movies can sacrifice story for big visuals and a level of grotesque that’s over-the-top, Inner Demons is the horror’s haiku. It minimalist visual palette amplifies the performance of the cast, and the plot is as powerful and refreshingly simple as a sprig of parsley.