As an exercise in fairy tale/horror movie logic, writer-director Ursula Dabrowsky’s Inner Demon just about sustains itself on the strength of its intrepid teenage heroine’s commitment to protect her younger, timider sister … but its piling-up of cliché elements and mish-mash of survival horror (not that the protagonist really survives) and avenging ghosts risks losing the audience at key moments.
In the opening scene, Sam Durrell (Sarah Jeavons) comforts her sister Maddy, who has had a nightmare, by saying she would find a way to look after her even if she herself were killed – which pretty much gives away the third act an hour before we get there. Left alone in their isolated home, the girls are targeted by a killer couple – when creepy-smiley Denise (Kerry Ann Reid) shows up at the front door claiming to have been in an accident and asking to be let in to use the phone, Sam is sensible enough not to fall for it, but Denise’s sweaty partner Karl (Andreas Sobik) is already in the house and sitting broodily in the dark front room. Sam gets knocked out and wakes up in the boot of a car, where she resourcefully causes a tire to blow out so she can get away in the dark woods … only the first house she stumbles on, at the end of a road marked with Keep Out signs, turns out to be the killers’ lair. Suffering from a stab-wound in her side, Sam hides in a closet and performs gruesome self-surgery after the manner of 80s action heroes. Physically trapped when the door is locked, she is further obliged not to make an escape when she realises the couple have abducted Maddy too. Just as the heroine of Curve is stuck in a crashed car, Sam spends the bulk of the film in the cupboard – peeping out through a hole and getting a sense of the rifts in the killers’ household. Denise whines that she doesn’t want to play this game any more (‘they’re getting younger,’ she complains) while Karl quotes Hansel and Gretel in a strange Slavic accent (which puts clear blue water between him and the otherwise similar Ocker slob villain of the Wolf Creek movies) and gets so paranoid he pointlessly kills the friendly neighbourhood dope dealer when he comes round for a social call (blunt force head trauma seems to be this year’s in-method of incidental horror film murder). Sam eventually dies, but rallies a corps of spectral former victims to protect Maddy and bring an end to the killers’ spree – a reversal of the Elm Street situation where the murderer gets to be a super-powered ghost and the victims are trapped in limbo. The protracted climax offers eerie images and a satisfying resolution, but is less effective than a brief hallucination in Final Girl which uses the same idea.
Dabrowsky’s earlier film, also about an abused girl fighting back and a ghostly tormentor, was called Family Demons, suggesting that she has a particular interest in this area of domestic horror. Inner Demon gets into a rut (or stuck in a cupboard) in that it seems to be recycling riffs in its menaced-by-a-maniac, trapped-in-a-confined-space and ghosts-on-the-loose phases. But it also has some strengths – Jeavons is good and Sam is an unusually likeable screen teen (she takes responsibility from the first and doesn’t complain about being left to look after her sister), the dynamic between Denise and Karl is interesting (the couple fit into a run of recent true-crime films about emblematic Australian murderers from Wolf Creek to Snowtown) and it has a couple of decent shocks and reversals. Not to be confused with the American found footage exorcism movie Inner Demons, which I very nearly included in my FrightFest coverage by mistake.