“Dead Inside” is an interesting little horror film with a fresh perspective and a brooding sense of atmosphere. This happens to be the film’s strong suit as it more than compliments the film’s jump scares. Often, it overshadows them. The film centers on a group of party-goers haunted by their impending doom and provides a healthy dose of supernatural goings-on while maintaining an overall ambiguity.
The film introduces Sarah (Hannah Ward AKA Lala Hensely), a quiet girl raging war with her inner demons. When those demons come to light, bad things happen. There are a few good ideas here and a few questionable ones, but all in all, the film just does things differently. Popular high school students crash Sarah’s house expecting a party and she timidly agrees to play host. The setup is seemingly “outcast versus the world,” but much of the scorn and bullying associated with this dynamic is substituted for indifference and, occasionally, sympathy. It’s a pleasant turn from the norm.
While the characters are treated to a decent amount of development, the soap opera dramatics to which the film often deviates take “Dead Inside” down a notch. The actors handle the material well, though, and Lala Hensely is superb as Sarah. It may not be a showcase of her range, but what she does deliver is genuine. There is a standout moment on a staircase where she turns to her friends and shares an ominous message. It is terrifically creepy and a highlight of the film.
Another interesting layer to this film is its refusal to designate a threat. There is most certainly a threat present, but it is tantalizingly mysterious. Any sense of villainy is juggled between all characters and the supernatural aspects of the story are kept in the dark. I mean that literally and metaphorically, but it is the former that may actually work against the film.
“Dead Inside” is shot well throughout and makes expert use of shadows and silhouettes. It is a dark vision and a justified representation of Sarah’s dismal outlook. However, it is at times too dark. On a practical level, a few key shots are so underexposed that they obscure all information. However, it is not without its qualities. Director Pearry Teo carefully treads a line that aims to only hint at things unseen. It may not always be the perfect execution but it is always scary. After all, that is the wonderful, alluring thing about the dark.
Teo has a good eye for creepiness and an acute handle on suspense. The soundtrack is minimal but effective, especially the soft lullaby that opens the film and revisits us throughout. With elements of “Carrie” and “Identity,” this film is a slow burner worth seeking out. If you’re looking for an eerie supernatural drama or if you have any appreciation for dark irony, “Dead Inside” is for you.