Q&A: Director Seth Grossman on “INNER DEMONS”Features/Interviews,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
What qualifies a director as right for his/her specific job as a filmmaker? Is it technical skill, as in being able to create an exciting or provocative visual rhythm from any given camera? Is it endurance, as in being able to keep cool and confident under the pressures of the hustle-and-bustle on-set experience? Or is it a cinematic voice, as in being a master storyteller with an innate and unique understanding of your characters?
In a way, for INNER DEMONS director Seth Grossman, it’s a mixture of all three but with one very specific advantage: his experience in both reality television and the world of horror. Grossman previously scared fright fans with THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT: REVELATIONS, a competent thriller in its own right that added a very interesting procedural spin on the franchise. But it’s Grossman’s work on the reality show INTERVENTION which makes him the right man to direct INNER DEMONS, a found footage horror that presents elements of possession horror through the eyes of a recovery reality show. Talking to FANGORIA, Grossman opened up on INNER DEMONS and what it’s like to create horror from a hot-button issue…
FANGORIA: What was it specifically that inspired you to tackle a project such as INNER DEMONS?
SETH GROSSMAN: I think it was my background working on INTERVENTION that made me want to work on INNER DEMONS. When I had my first meeting to direct the movie at the production offices, I saw that they had a script under “Untitled Intervention Exorcism Movie.” Having already directed a horror movie called THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT: REVELATIONS and having spent a year directing episodes of INTERVENTION, I thought, “Man, they shouldn’t even have to meet with any more potential directors.”
I think that any time as a filmmaker you get the opportunity to survey an area of your life within a genre movie or a script, it’s a real privilege. Working on INTERVENTION was one of the most important and challenging experiences of my life, especially considering I was such a huge fan of the show. Figuring out how the show was constructed and helping to make it was a crash course in the family dynamic of addicts as well as the tension of forming relationships with the subjects of reality TV shows. Since then, I’ve worked on a lot of other TV shows but none of them had the stakes that INTERVENTION had where if the subjects don’t go to rehab, maybe they’ll survive or they’ll be dead within a year. So, working on INTERVENTION with actual addicts made me able to take that dynamic to a horrifying extreme in a horror movie that depicts what would happen if someone who was using was possessed by a demon.
FANGORIA: As someone who has been up close and personal with the real side of INTERVENTION, is there any point in making INTERVENTION where you have to separate yourself from making the characters or story a bit too realistic?
GROSSMAN: Well, since I didn’t write the movie, I was mostly a collaborator. There were producers on board who were also collaborative and a screenwriter who wrote the film. But I wasn’t basing the film on my own experiences to the point where I’d lose objectivity on it. There are big differences between the producers in INNER DEMONS than the ones I worked with on INTERVENTION; the former are a lot more exploitative and pose conflicts-of-interest. But that’s just because we’re trying to tell a story with plot twists and antagonism, and without those producers, the story wouldn’t have moved as quickly. So I wouldn’t say I was too bound to my own experience because I had been working with people who had their own different kind of experiences.
FANGORIA: Was there anything specifically about the project and the subject matter that you specifically wanted to bring to the screen?
GROSSMAN: Yes. When I worked on INTERVENTION, family members of addicts would sometime say their loved ones would change so much when they were on drugs that they were like a different person; almost like they were possessed. And I was told this all the time, and the fact that that metaphor was always on the tip of their tongue, it felt really profound when I saw that in the script. So I saw INNER DEMONS as an opportunity to show that there are different explanations for when people act erratically, and that always depends on the culture that they live in.
Right now, we live in a culture that tends to “medicalize” everything. When kids act wild and crazy, we say that they have ADHD, and if adults act wild and crazy, we say that they’re mentally ill. But there are other cultures in other parts of the world who’d look at that behavior and say those people are possessed or that it is the result of witches and black magic. That’s something that really grabbed me about the film, as it’s saying, “What does this girl really need? Does she need rehab or does she need an exorcism?”
Another thing that grabbed me about the script was the love story. I wanted to make a horror film with interesting characters who go through issues you normally see in dramatic pictures. I didn’t want to make a movie where there’s a monster in a house or where people are dying all the time; I wanted to make a movie about relationships.
FANGORIA: Did you research into those supposed real-life cases on exorcism as well for the more supernatural scenes?
GROSSMAN: Yes, for sure. There’s a video that a character in INNER DEMONS watches that’s from Cameroon and I’ve seen real footage from Cameroon of an actual exorcism. There’s a nice mix of religions in that area, and I’ve done studies on voodoo and exorcisms when I was in college. I’ve actually researched exorcisms in Judaism, Catholicism and I also watched a lot of videos on YouTube, so I definitely did my homework.
FANGORIA: Did you ever find it difficult to weave in the supernatural element into the INTERVENTION-esque shooting style in a way that would appear organic?
GROSSMAN: Well, you know, doing stunts and special effects make-up on a low, low budget is always challenging. There were times where I didn’t know how we were going to pull off certain things in the script. But I had experience with supernatural movies in THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT: REVELATIONS, which had a lot of special effects scenes as well as gore make-up. I knew what we could pull off and what we couldn’t pull off, so I tried to keep everything fairly believable. I don’t think it was a huge challenge to weave everything in there in a believable way.
However, all of the special effects sequences were the first things that we shot. One of the producers gave us the advice, which she heard from Oren Peli, which was to shoot all of the stunts and special effects first because they’re the hardest things to pull off on the low budget. So we got all of that out of the way and we had a lot of latitude to make the movie work.
FANGORIA: Considering the public opinion changing on the treatment of mental illness and addiction, did you have any worries that the film could be misconstrued as potentially insensitive?
GROSSMAN: Having worked with addicts for years on INTERVENTION and having my own personal experiences with friends and family who have struggled with drug use, I felt like I was qualified in some ways to portray addiction on-camera. I certainly don’t think I had the last word on the subject or had anything to expose, but I was immersed in the worlds of addiction and mental illness so long that I felt I would be respectful to addicts and what people in recovery go through.
That said, addiction is a hot button issue. It’s somewhat of an epidemic in our society, but I do think it’s something that interests me. It’s a part of the human experience that I find fascinating and I think I’ll keep making movies and writing fiction about recovery.
Seth Grossman’s INNER DEMONS is now available on VOD.