A clever premise is executed with minimal imagination in “Inner Demons,” a found-footage horror pic in which a crew from an “Intervention”-like reality show slowly realize their drug-addict subject may be possessed by a demon. Most convincing as an audition reel for director Seth Grossman (“The Butterfly Effect 3”) to land a gig helming a future “Paranormal Activity” installment, this is an item for hardcore horror buffs only, and a longshot for any kind of theatrical release following its Los Angeles Film Festival bow. Further exposure at fright fests and ancillary play seem like logical outlets to cater to genre fanatics.
Grossman actually directed eight episodes of A&E’s Emmy-winning “Intervention,” and his familiarity with reality-TV formula initially pays off in a faithful reproduction during the pic’s first act. A three-person crew including imperious producer Suzanne (Kate Whitney), wisecracking cameraman Tim (Brian Flaherty) and wide-eyed rookie Jason (Morgan McClellan) descend on the home of middle-class couple Steve (Christopher Parker) and Beth (Colleen McGrann) and their teenage daughter, Carson (Lara Vosburgh), a formerly straight-A Catholic schoolgirl whose life inexplicably spiraled into a haze of drugs and destructive behavior.
Clues quickly pile up suggesting Carson’s addiction may be rooted in something far more sinister. There’s the fiendish statue perched in her bedroom and her disquieting habit of crouching on the closet floor with a vacant thousand-yard stare plastered on her face. Jason, who has something of a hero complex, is immediately drawn to this wounded (and extremely dangerous) animal, despite Carson’s protests that there’s “something evil inside” her and the drugs are only a tool to keep it at bay. In keeping with the show’s format, his colleagues cart her off to rehab to document her struggle to get better. Predictably, in the grand tradition of profanity-spewing, randomly vomiting and ultimately murderous victims of demonic possession, things only get worse.
Grossman and screenwriter Glenn Gers (“Fracture,” “Mad Money”) could’ve had more fun toying with the ambiguity of Carson’s addiction/possession in order to heighten the suspense, but instead betray their straight-up horror ambitions fairly early. The closest the pic comes to finding something provocative lies in the link between the unabashed exploitation of low-budget horror and the more surreptitious exploitation of television packaged as informational nonfiction. Still, the satirical flourishes rarely extend beyond a few stray lines of dialogue (as when Suzanne exclaims, “We’re all whores here!”).
Any grander ambitions would likely appear out of place next to the handful of supremely cheesy jump scares and cheap-looking vfx shots. “Inner Demons” doesn’t shy away from portraying Carson’s demonic behavior, but grows increasingly risible as her actions become more overt. It’s also amusing how far the filmmakers push their found-footage conceit: The rehab center seems to have cameras pointed at Carson at every moment, and yet apparently no one ever reviews the tapes that capture unequivocal proof of her possession. The goofiness is redeemed somewhat by a wickedly violent climax — the exclamation point at the end of a rather simple sentence.
Tech package and performances are an equally mixed bag, though nothing to be ashamed of by the standards of lower-budget genre pics.