Inner Demons apes the aesthetic of numerous horror predecessors by combining found footage and mockumentary styles into a faux Intervention premise, with a documentary crew tracking Carson (Lara Vosburgh), whose heroin addiction threatens to crumble her bourgeois, lily-white SoCal lifestyle. Yet any social or class critiques are shirked for a facile possession narrative that meaninglessly teases is-she-or-isn’t-she scenes which muddle the derivation of her illness, all while vaguely establishing a hero-cum-love-interest in Jason (Morgan McClellan), a member of the film crew who suspects that Carson’s addiction may legitimately have supernatural roots. Like Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead, a character’s addiction filters into more typical horror archetypes, but whereas Alvarez utilized this as merely a starting point to interrogate the gender trouble endemic to Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, director Seth Grossman is interested in no more than simply ghost-riding through the motions of his film’s basic metaphor.
If Grossman does sprinkle worthwhile bits of business into the film, they often take fleeting shape; when asked about the beginnings of her daughter’s illness, Carson’s mother replies, “Probably when she started dressing in that goth way,” a familiar, if still effective, means of getting at generational divide. Likewise, the family’s religious beliefs are referenced in relation to Carson’s growing drug problems, but Grossman and screenwriter Glenn Gers opt to engage these elements in such elementary ways, so that Carson’s possession can literally be explained along Satanist lines. Furthermore, the film positions Jason as Carson’s only ally, but can’t locate compelling motivations for his interest. He’s “one of those dudes who needs to rescue women,” as a smart-assed crew grip tells him, but Grossman would rather meander in the film’s larger, hollow metaphor than grapple with the multivalent implications of codependency, be it of sadistic or masochistic leanings. Gender and generation become mere placeholders to stage jump scares via surveillance footage, and there’s a disingenuous offering of pathos to accompany the film’s ridiculous and violent denouement.
Grossman’s best directorial decision is to sporadically question documentary assemblage, such as multiple scenes where interviewers ask subjects to “restate your thoughts in a complete sentence.” The request’s repetition throughout inherently undermines voyeuristic inclination, since there’s no illusion of a self-contained image, one that isn’t being actively constructed and manipulated by unseen forces. Nevertheless, these burgeoning points are deflated by the straight-faced stereotype of an immigrant nurse who tells the crew that she’s seen this kind of possession before, in her village in Cameroon. The character is made offensive by her brief inclusion, which haphazardly ascribes Carson’s illness not to familial neglect or even a wanton exertion of privilege, but quite literally to exotic forces that are beyond Western comprehension. To make matters worse, Grossman ultimately abandons the self-reflexive thread to mimic Paranormal Activity’s high-angle surveillance footage, with repeated shots of Carson writhing and convulsing in her hospital bed. Finally, he stages a banal exorcism in a handheld, faux-documentary style that makes no gesture toward the culpability of the filmmaker in its depiction.