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INNER GHOSTS (2018)

Directed by Paulo Leite
Written by Paulo Leite
Starring Celia Williams, Elizabeth Bochmann, Iris Cayatte, Norman MacCallum, Amanda Booth, Patricia Godinho, João Blümel, Inês Sá Frias, João Pedro Anjos, Ana Sofia Leite
Find out more about this film here

This is one mixed bag of a ghost story. For the most part, INNER GHOSTS works as a somber, quiet, and somewhat cold story about dealing with loss and contact with the afterlife. Then it kicks in the door for a moments and wraps up in a manner that can only be categorized as convoluted. I liked a lot of this film, but man, there are some moments that had me slapping my forehead and dropping my jaw simultaneously.

Helen (Celia Williams) is a talented researcher in the field of medicine, specializing in the deterioration of the human mind during dementia and Alzheimer’s. She also happens to be a medium who has a connection with ghosts and sports an extensive knowledge of the afterlife. The two of those professions come into conflict when Helen develops a theory and begins research that can help restore a deteriorating mind. Though it’s been tested on lab animals, it has yet to be tested on humans. Helen’s idea is to test it on ghosts as a means to develop some kind of understanding as to their motivations and memories of their former selves. Teaming up with her star student and a graphic designer, both of whom are sensitives, able to communicate with the beyond, Helen sets out to build a machine that allows them to not only communicate with the dead, but quantify it so the scientific community can accept ghosts to be real. Meanwhile, a particularly nasty ghost who wants to be a demon is haunting them from the shadows and in their dreams.

Yeah, so that’s a lot to unpack. INNER GHOSTS plays out sort of like a PBS show—very cold, meticulous, certain, and proper. This might be my own preconception to the British accents, but the film definitely feels as if it is distancing itself from being too emotional and keeps the viewer at an arm’s distance. The cold colors and bland settings don’t help bring the warmth and while Williams is a fine actress, she often comes off as more intellectual than relatable.

There is a lot of scientific talk as well. And while Williams delivers her lines with conviction and certainty, there is a lot of stuff that she deems as fact about the ghostly world that really feels like a leap. She is a person of science, but seems to rely an awful lot on folklore and mysticism mumbo. Williams delivers a discourse on the three types of ghosts as if it were sheer fact. Maybe this is simply in the conviction of her voice, but I think that putting the unknown in such a rigid box of description feels more phony than anything else. Williams’ Hanna seems to have all of the answers about the unknown and I think the story would have benefitted more with her being a bit less of a know it all about all things that go bump in the night.

Right when I thought this film was going to be a by the numbers spooker with slamming doors, flashing lights, and a decently designed ghost who looks a little like a human shaped turd, there is a moment that happens in the climax that had me leap from my seat. It is a completely, out of the blue, shocking development that I won’t spoil, but if you take a shot with this film, I guarantee it’s going to make you stand up and notice at how brutal and gory it is. This felt uncharacteristic to the rest of the film, but sure delivers a jolt.

Sure the plot relies on the construction of a machine that basically makes magic happen. And while that McGuffin is pretty obvious, the film tries very hard to explain the unexplainable. I also like the use of 3-D printers in order to create something that cannot be created. I don’t think 3-D printers work in the manner depicted in this film, but it lends the illusion of scientific credibility. And while the ending couldn’t be more confusing, it does wrap the whole thing up in a way that feels confident. Ultimately, INNER GHOSTS doesn’t make a lick of sense, but when described by the capable acting of Williams, it feels like it should. This is a bizarre one. It’s not great, but there are some decent moments and one hell of a shockeroo towards the end.