In horror cinema, there a several subgenres that populate our streaming queues. I’m very pleased that horror, in our current time, has risen above what could have stayed a one note genre. In the last 20 years, very talented filmmakers have taken horror and practically bulldozed through the boundaries of horror convention. It has been reinvented. As a fan of horror, I am proud of how far we’ve come...
...While defying limitations can be a creatively liberating thing, some stories don’t necessarily call for that. Sometimes the scariest, most intensive horror experiences come from a very simple or intimate idea. Director Paulo Leite tells a captivating ghost story in his new film, Inner Ghosts. This is a film that is less concerned with reinvention and far more interested in stripping away the fluff and presenting us with a great ghost story.
This spooky tale begins with paranormal medium, Helen, played by Celia Williams, witnessing the suicide of her daughter. Grief stricken and paralyzed by the tragic event, Helen has ceased all contact with the dead and no longer utilizes her gift, as the practice of her talents would only conjure up painful feelings about her daughter. Helen, now teaching as a science professor at a local university spends her days trying to distance herself from the terrible tragedy until two medium sensitive students come to Helen for help. All three women are receiving information from the, ‘other side,’ with information about how to create a device that can communicate with and possibly even materialize spirits. Helen, although reluctant at first, decides to help the students carry out the creation of the design. What transpires next is a series of events that blend in and out of our world and the world of the dead.
Inner Ghosts may be somewhat simple in concept, but it is mostly effective in the execution. There are many moving parts here that make this film engaging and I feel each component, for the most part, does their job admirably. Celia Williams is an incredible actress and one that I had never before seen. She elevates this film greatly, giving it a weighty realness with her grief that could have easily been underperformed, had they gone with someone else. She also has a very warm side when comforting the two students and sells the idea that she truly cares for them. Elsa, played by Elizabeth Bochmann and Rachel, played by Iris Cayatte give serviceable performances but I didn’t feel they fully took advantage of the material. They were by no means bad, but hardly memorable.
The tone of Inner Ghosts is consistent throughout the film’s entirety and it is, in my opinion, the strongest aspect of the film. Many paranormal films get this wrong in a big bad way. Many fail by way of bad lighting and either light the scenes too bright, ruining the tone or don’t offer enough light, making things difficult to see. Here, the photography is appropriately dark, emphasizing cool blues and grays. The entire coloring of the film is some of the best I’ve seen from an independent film in some time. Many filmmakers overlook the color palette, in favor of creating interesting shots and other, more obvious film components. Paulo Leite is no slouch behind the camera, though. There are several interesting things he does with empty space. In one scene, our three leads are discussing possible paranormal activity in a particular room and as the stationary camera watches them leave, it holds on the empty room for about 10 seconds. In a film, that can feel like an eternity and I applaud Paulo for taking the risk because it worked. It created a sense of presence and that an entity is aware and awake in that room and it didn’t have to rely on showing anything. Art director, Joao Cavaleiro and cinematographer, Miguel Sales Lopes have done an outstanding job creating a chilling atmosphere.
The overall pacing and three act structure isn’t always even or consistent. The setup of the film is intriguing, and a large majority should be credited to Celia Williams and her captivating performance. There are several creepy moments with eerie imagery evenly placed throughout most of the film. Jump scares are scarce and instead we’re given scares that are more implied rather than shown. Inner Ghosts understands the power of the less is more technique. It isn’t trying too hard to be special or different. It just wants to creep you out, and it does to great effect. When the final act of the film arrives, it unfortunately turns into a bit of a goofy mess involving a side plot revolving around Helen and the Dean of the science department. He’s wanting to patent the device they are working on and profit off its brilliance. Helen resents him for this and the back and forth encounters between them is fine throughout most of the film, but near the end you realize it was building toward a trite movie cliché. I won’t reveal what that cliché is, but I will say that it doesn’t feel like it belongs in the movie. It would be better suited for a mediocre crime serial. That being said, it doesn’t ruin what’s come before it. There’s also a special treat for gore lovers at the end that I won’t spoil. I’ll just say, you won’t see it coming and while brutal, it does kind of redeem the bad taste that previously soured me.
In a film climate where good old-fashioned ghost stories are rarely done right, Inner Ghosts is a breath of fresh air. This isn’t reinventing the genre and I respect it for that. This film simply wants to tell an interesting tale that will work as guaranteed nightmare fuel. Some of the imagery here is pretty terrifying and most of the really scary stuff is what you don’t see. Rather, it’s what’s implied that ignites our imagination to fill in the spooky blanks. It’s a real shame the third act was such a letdown because it could have avoided some of the screenwriting pitfalls, had they found a less bombastic way to rev up the tension at the end. Even so, Inner Ghosts should not be skipped by those who enjoy the more paranormal side of horror. It’s a mixed bag, but it’s a bag that absolutely delivers the goods, even if you have to pick through the stale bits.
Inner Ghosts haunts DVD/VOD on January 7th from Uncork’d Entertainment.
*It should be noted that this was fan funded largely through Kickstarter.com. Generous donations from passionate backers have helped the director fulfill his vision. This kind of patronage should always be commended.*
By Jeffrey Hollingsworth