A happy young couple welcomes their first child shortly after getting married. Their joy quickly turns to fear when the girl starts acting strangely and unexplained phenomena start happening around the house.
There’s a moment at the beginning of Infernal – the latest film from director Bryan Coyne (Harvard Park) – where the film almost challenges you not to laugh. Young couple Sophia and Nathan (Heather Adair and Andy Ostroff respectively) have just moved into their new home together, when Sophia drops the bombshell that she’s pregnant. Offering to make an honest woman of his partner, Nathan proposes. Sealing the deal with a hug, the camera – for this is a found footage horror and everything must be filmed – begins to distort and a crucifix behind the couple turns slowly to settle upon an upturned position. The association of the unborn child to something satanic is as subtle as a British nanny killing herself at the birthday party of a foreign diplomat’s son.
Cut to eight years later and our adoring couple are struggling with their daughter’s erratic behavior. Little Imogene (Alyssa Koerner) has become obsessed with her comb, brushing her hair aggressively. She’s also taken to wandering off and having seizures. Diagnosed with autism, Sophia and Nathan are encouraged to record her every moment, in particular when she’s playing in her bedroom. Setting up a nanny-cam in her bedroom, they do just that. And it is in these moments of Imogene’s alone time that Infernal reaps most of its spine-tingling scares. For whilst the little poppet sleeps soundly in her bed dreaming of presumably hair combing, someone or something likes to spend the night stood over her tiny body.
Filmed on low budget, Infernal makes use of some applications of smoke and mirrors parlor tricks to ramp up the feelings of unease. Case in point, a flagship scene sees a dinner party ending in blood and screaming, but what was that you saw out of the corner of your eye? Those familiar with the BBC’s Ghostwatch drama from the 90s will see something similar in Infernal’s tactics.
Outside of these scenes however, Infernal spends a large amount of its time having Sophia and Nathan squabbling over how to raise their precocious little treasure. Is it the stress of having an autistic daughter that causes them to clash, or is it Nathan’s growing resentment at being forced into marrying Sophia? The film is never really clear. However, we are certainly privy to everything that happens to them, whether we want to be or not. Adding to the almost tedious onslaught of marital despondency is what appears to be semi-improvised dialogue. The kind that sees people mistaking emotion with using the word ‘f—k’ as a noun, verb and adjective every two seconds. It’s grating and undermines the scares Infernal has to offer. With a running time of over 100 minutes, Infernal could potentially do with losing these scenes.
It’s a shame then that what Infernal has to offer is outweighed by the above, because, as has already been mentioned, the scares are there and they work really well. They’d be even stronger if we didn’t have them punctuated by scenes such as the musical montage of our troubled family dancing to a lo-fi indie pop song. It’s like the film encourages us to get closer with a dark embrace before pushing us away instantaneously. In addition, the film’s usage of found footage is a little perplexing as at times it becomes apparent in some scenes that no one is holding the camera. Like David Ayer’s End of Watch, it seems to become disinterested in its own gimmick. Maybe it was deliberate, but it just felt awkward.
It’s all so frustrating because there is a really good ghost story buried under the theatrical fighting, like a flower being choked by weeds. To paraphrase poet Henry Longsworth;
There was a little film, that had a little girl
Right in the middle of screenplay,
And when it was good, it was very, very good,
But when it was bad it was problematic.