UK Release Date – TBC
The world of the paranormal clashing with the world of technology is a common source of inspiration, and you don’t have to look far to find stories about ghost hunters and scientists searching exploring the unknown. These days it’s something you can see on the big screen and at home, whether they’re claiming to be based on true events or not. In the case of Inner Ghosts film maker Paulo Leite wants to merge these two worlds by having the protagonist be a medium and a brain surgeon; someone looking to solve medical mysteries with one foot firmly planted in the world of the spiritual. Is the director biting off more than they can chew? Well in some ways, yes. There’s a lot going on here in a story that tries to balance a lot of different elements… before going off the rails entirely.
The concrete of harsh reality rears its ugly head in the opening credits as the daughter of Dr. Helen Stephens (Celia Williams) falls from an apartment window. In the middle of surgery Helen senses this tragedy and rushes to the scene to find Lily (Patricia Godinho) dying on the pavement. It’s certainly an efficient way to state the central themes of the story, and a mother’s loss is one of the most compelling parts of the drama. There’s a constant struggle between these two worlds throughout the film, and it’s not just because Helen has to get research grants based on scientific findings and not her sixth sense. But it’s clear that the story is geared towards all the ghostly ideas and it often gives screen time to silly spectacle over philosophical debate.
The narrative often hinges on Celia Williams herself, who manages to say just about any dialogue with the same degree of stoicism. Whether she’s delivering a lecture full of science techno-babble or reeling off the details of ghost categorisation, she provides all kinds of absurd expository dialogue. It’s an impressive effort, and without her this whole thing would fall apart as the rest of the cast are far less convincing. Her student Rachel (Iris Cayatte) is constantly panicking despite being a medium-in-training, and her grouchy University boss Dr. Steinman (Norman MacCallum) jumps from natural sceptic to total lunatic at a moments notice.
The plot itself is similarly out of balance as Helen tries to get grants for her brain research, while also arguing with her former teacher Moira (Amanda Booth) about speaking to the dead. Ten years after Lily’s death Helen is well on track with ideas that involve magnetic fields in the brain and implants that might allow communication with comatose patients. However despite having all this new technology within her grasp, and the finances to make real progress, she is still trying to tie all of this to the world of seances and spirit photography. This kind of research is of course unusable in the realm of clinical trials and scientific papers, but she insists on working in what is basically a haunted house – much to the annoyance of Dr. Steinman.
Elsewhere a secondary story thread involves troubled artist Elsa (Elizabeth Bochmann) who is being hunted by a demonic presence. While visions of strange entities have been a source of inspiration for her work, they’ve started to become violent and she needs Helen’s help. How this connects with the death of Lily and the ghosts in Helen’s new office becomes clearer with time, although it’s all pretty vague. Eventually Elsa’s skills and Helen’s gifts combine, and they build a strange device thanks to a spirit called Albert (João Blümel) who sends them a diagram by influencing blank photo film. If this sounds convoluted and slightly bizarre it’s only because it is, and things get even sillier as the investigation progresses.
The information dumps come one after another as Helen explains how ghosts move in our world, how the modern use of electrical devices hinders them, and what evil spirits and demons are up to in the shadows. Later things get even more nonsensical as 3D printers are used by sinister beings and Helen must traverse the spirit world to find answers about Lily’s death. If the third act change of personality from Dr. Steinman was pushing things off the rails, then the ridiculous strobe light filled finale sends this all right off the deep end. A lot of the film has a nice muted and sometimes eerie look about it, but the conclusion is genuinely headache inducing. After a long build up the whole thing just falls apart as if they didn’t know how to finish the story.
It’s a shame as the first half is pretty compelling with a tale of trauma and personal grief fitting well with the subject matter. Having a hero that is stuck between two different professions and having them find a link between them might have been interesting. But the emotional core of the story is totally jettisoned in favour of a lot of flashing lights and silly gadgets before the whole thing collapses. Celia Williams gives a great performance so it’s a shame the results are such a mess; maybe with the right sort of role she might become a great horror lead in the future. In the end there’s just too much stuff and not enough substance, and the simpler moments are lost in the mix thanks to the unfocused script and a silly ending that drags on forever.