Dead Inside (aka The Evil Inside) (2011)
Directed by Pearry Reginald Teo
In an effort to help their mentally disturbed daughter settle into a new life back in her childhood town, Sarah's parents arrange a sleepover for her, inviting along her old friend Lucy (Sage Howard) in order to ease the transition. Unsure of what exactly to expect from her fragile friend, Lucy invites along a group of buddies to make a party of the evening. Soon after the group's arrival, the creepiness begins as Sarah becomes witness to strange visions depicting the deaths of her newfound acquaintances.
Ostracised by the group after the realisation of her first premonition, Sarah finds herself tormented by disembodied voices and ghost-like figures. Meanwhile, the increasingly frustrated remainder of the group see love triangles, distrust and sheer bitchiness turn them on each other -- the fatal results mimicking the portentous hallucinations described by Sarah.
Right off the bat, it's pleasing to see that director Teo hasn't lost the knack for generating genuinely spine-tingling visuals that he displayed way back in 2009 with Necromentia (review here). Sterling use of light, shadow and focus sees much of Dead Inside drip a Gothic, spine-tingling atmosphere from the screen throughout, while the confident cinematography and unnerving score work together to bring the foreboding, haunted house ambience to chilling life. A few stinger-backed jump scares are delivered with gusto, but for the most part Dead Inside is an exercise in deliberately paced, slow creeping horror -- and a very successful one in the aesthetic sense.
Where it falls down, however, is the script. Most audiences will be kept on tenterhooks hoping to find just what is behind Sarah's visions, why she (and the rest of them) should be put through this experience and just what kind of supernatural force is keeping the doors locked, preventing escape, and terrorising Sarah on a per-death basis. In what proves to be a massive misfire, rather than coming up with anything original, disturbing or even satisfying, Dead Inside goes for the good ol' rug-pull in its final moments, dishing out an ending so trite that it's apt to have the invested viewer screaming almost as loudly as Sarah does during the final tracking shot. And she's got some lungs, let me tell you!
Characterisation is suitably strong, with well rounded (if not entirely likable) protagonists that, save for a very few, don't cry out to be offed as soon as possible. As Sarah, Hensely doesn't really have much to do but stumble around looking haunted, but it's to her credit that she manages to bring a sympathetic, damaged element to the excessively strange behaviour of her character. Of particular note are Mercer and Bidder (the former potentially well known as the voice of Leon Kennedy in the Resident Evil videogames and marking his first on-screen feature performance here) as Malcolm and Michelle, whose challenging but loving relationship feels convincingly real and marks an effective emotional high point during the film's climax.
Much of this is negated, though, by the crushing blow delivered by the ending. Robbing everything that has come before of just about any relevance whatsoever, it's almost tantamount to shooting the winning horse in a race as it approaches the final furlong and leaves Dead Inside a film to be taken on two planes: On the plane of sheer aesthetics and filmmaking, it's a gloomy, shiver-inducing winner; on the plane of story, it's a critically hobbled attempt that offers up too much mystery for the simple get-out clause it ultimately employs.
Dead Inside is available now on DVD in the UK under the title The Evil Inside. Distribution in the US is currently being sought.
3 out of 5