A Demon Within (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s dreadful “A Demon Within” challenges the audience to check out early, do laundry, go grocery shopping, walk the dog, nap… basically anything else rather than to have to endure another second of sub-par, F-grade material. Although there is a plot involving a haunted house and demonic possession, the film does not have a strong screenplay from where to lift off and so the story fails to go anywhere interesting.
The opening scene shows an exorcism in 1914, but the rest of the picture has only a tenuous connection with the flashback. The spirits involved, revealed during the climax but the material is so predictable that viewers with an IQ of over 30 can glean what’s about to occur from the first “scare,” are the more modern variety, one of which involves the town doctor, Jeremy (Clint Hummel), drowning his sorrows in alcohol—spirits (get it?)—for having failed to get his daughter to the hospital as she begins to succumb to her bizarre illness. Meanwhile, a mother and her daughter, Julia (Charlene Amoia) and Charlotte (Patricia Ashley), move into Dr. Miller’s former home without being aware of its history.
Dialogue between so-called horrific moments, which are almost always driven by cheap visual effects, are an assault to the eardrums and the intelligence. For instance, the priest (Michael Ehlers) is not at all believable. Perhaps the intention to portray Father Donald as concerned for his community but the words he uses, in addition to the acting, paint him to be more of an annoying busybody. As a result, the religious practitioner may don a robe and carry a bible, but not once do we forget that what we are seeing is an actor playing a part. There is minimal subtlety in the portrayals across the board.
Scares are cheap and formulaic. A girl investigates a strange noise upstairs when she is alone in the house. When the camera is slightly off-center, we know that when the character turns around, there will be someone, or something, standing there. Cue the sudden loud noise designed to make the viewer jump… A trashy technique employed when the filmmakers are not convinced themselves that the images on screen are scary enough. Just in case that isn’t adequate, a character exclaims, “Don’t do that!” or “You scared me!” Our eyelids grow heavy.
The bedroom exorcism is ripped right out of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” but without the ambition, vision, precise execution, subtle elegance despite ostentatious display of violence, and genuine terror that results from staring directly into the darkness. Instead, what we see is cheap cosmetics on the face (but the body looks perfectly untouched), confusion regarding where actors ought to stand, and bad lighting to the point where it is a challenge at times to see what is unfolding. Even the priest’s pronunciation of Latin is questionable. When asked about details regarding exorcisms, he does not provide answers.
Clearly, the film was not ready to be made and yet it was.