Blood Ties: Ursula Dabrowsky's Inner Demon

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Horror can be born of blood and guts, but, in the work of Ursula Dabrowsky, fear lingers--it's the bonds between family that bore into the psyche. Michael Aronovitz speaks to her about Inner Demon, the forthcoming second instalment in her Demon trilogy.

Horror films, if successful, do not make available some comprehensive sense of relief after the scare moments. They leave residue, and the conversation then broadens to style and substance. The idea of horror as a genre has become a slippery one--so riddled with the stigma left behind by cheap slashers, computer-generated aberrations, and the antiquated, almost stagnant portraits and regurgitations of werewolves, zombies, vampires and ghosts (not to mention witches, warlocks, mummies and water beasts) that the construct of that which brings terror lacks definition at its core. And considering all the subgenres and interlocking categories, spin-offs and subliminal counter-themes, we are inevitably left with a rather complicated lexicon that, by the patterns of its own complexity, seems to have been stretched too thin. The aftermath has slowly spread before us in the form of a void, and it is one we have met with no more than apathetic resignation.

This is a tragedy.

It is also a harsh reality, and modern filmmakers have to embrace horror as more of an element than a category, a signifier patterned into the broadcloth of character and theme as old-fashioned and pedagogical as that may sound. Horror is a spice. It is a toss of Habanero chilli and, while some might just prefer salt, the horror film director has to be careful not to fall too much in love with the flash and scorch of the condiment. After all, not many would be thrilled to eat a bowl of salt, let alone a plate of raw Habaneras (considering mass popular appeal, that is). In the end, it all comes down to story. What moves people? What plays out before them that somehow speaks to their experience and reconfigures it into some profound aesthetic testimony? Canadian-born filmmaker Ursula Dabrowsky would argue that the answer lies in the paradoxical family dynamic. And the second film in her Demon trilogy, Inner Demon (2014), promises us, its audience, a terrifying journey into the darkest places that lie between siblings and the cold patriarchal figures towering above them, casting shadows upon shadows, breath damp and heavy on the air, dirty fingers caressing the edge of the axe, toe-to-heel.

Dabrowsky studied film production at Montreal's Concordia University. After graduating in 1992, she moved to Adelaide, South Australia, and founded the independent film company Saylavee Productions. In 2006, she shot her first horror feature, Family Demons (2009), with an initial A$6500 budget, spending three years and a total of A$30,000 completing this dark and poetic vision of feminist beauty and familial rage. It is there that she initiated a fresh interpretation of the more traditional thematic paradigm scholars refer to as 'the persecuted maiden', and simultaneously established a filmic trademark best defined by texture, dynamics and timing.

Still, it would be a gross underestimation to come to the conclusion that Dabrowsky's appeal is solely defined by technical proficiency. True, the scare moments are visually and audibly engaging--and ultimately satisfying--yet she does not depend on them as mere buoys that dictate the direction of the plot. They are conduits to confrontations and perils more dramatically oriented, more centred on the soul than the shadow. By the same token, her debut effort--which tells the story of a blonde teenager (Cassandra Kane) who kills her abusive alcoholic mother (Kerry Reid) and is then haunted by her spirit--remains more than a film. It is a launching point for a new module of horror, intricate and disturbing, gritty and raw, vivid and personal. For it is not the stereotypical dark hallway that Dabrowsky pushes us down, but rather our own buried corridors, the twisted avenues deep inside the haunt of our secret repressions. …

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