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Inner Demon
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by Jay Seaver

"Half survival thriller, half something else, all pretty impressive."
4 stars

Ursula Dabrowsky directs the heck out of "Inner Demon", not just because it keeps going despite having a small cast and what seems like some tight constraints where locations and other resources are concerned, but because she pulls off the nifty trick of making her movie into something else without missing a beat. It's the sort of just making things work that hopefully gets her noticed, because while this is in many ways a horror-thriller that stocks close to the genre's basics, it also works a whole lot better than variations that have a lot more thrown at them.

So start with some basics: Australian teen Sam Durelle (Sarah Jeavons) is babysitting her kid sister Maddy (Scarlett Hocking) when a woman knocks on the door. Denise (Kerry Ann Reid) claims to be a stranded motorist, but when Sam tells her to wait until her mother gets home, she soon finds that Denise's husband Karl (Andreas Sobik) is already in the house, and it turns out that they have kidnapping (at least) on their mind rather than robbery.

Resourcefulness is the key in this sort of situation, and both filmmaker and hero display their fair share of it. The former starts by dealing with being locked in an automobile's trunk a whole heck of a lot more efficiently than most kidnap victims, with Dabrowsky doing a very nice job of communicating what she's doing to the audience without relying on crutches like Sam talking to herself or providing narration. This leads to a chase through the woods that may not look like that much, but is impressive in its staging: A lot of directors will film that sequence with all the emphasis on the feeling of motion and how the heroine has gritted teeth and grunts while the man pressing her gets a lot of stamina from his larger frame, and while there's certainly some of that, Dabrowsky makes sure to keep the woods from being just this vague, homogeneous environment; Sam and Karl pass landmarks and let the audience figure out whether she's gaining or losing distance. In a movie where the filmmakers probably can't afford a lot of proper fights - they require a lot of time and detail work even without stuntpeople - being really good at this kind of action makes up for a lot.

And it does need to make up for a bit, because the film does hit a bit of a snag later on, where Sam get stuck in a spot and things happen around her. It works out a lot better than it does in most cases - there's good tension as Denise and Karl find their situation threatened, and then the film takes a pretty hard left turn. What comes after is nifty - it's the sort of thing a lot of other movies of this genre would introduce much earlier or later to different effect - but there's moments when one can feel the movie stretching in different directions, maybe taking its eyes off the prize a bit.

For all that, Sarah Jeavons looks like she could be a find. She fits the physical template of this sort of thriller's heroine - young, blonde, on excellent terms with a white tank-top - but she brings a great attitude to it, making Sam determined and capable from the start but always showing that this is a heck of a thing for a teenager to have to face down. Andreas Sobik and Kerry Ann Reid are playing equally familiar sorts of adversaries - not quite the Aussie equivalent of backwoods rednecks, but uncouth and crazy enough that they could go in any direction but still enough themselves as not to be generic.

The pieces of "Inner Demon" are all familiar, although the arrangement is unusual enough to be interesting. It doesn't make a perfect transition, but it's a fascinating enough merger of two sorts of thrillers to surprise.

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originally posted: 12/20/15 15:55:42
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  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  Ursula Dabrowsky

Written by
  Ursula Dabrowsky

  Sarah Jeavons
  Kerry Ann Reid
  Andreas Sobik

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