Review: DEMONIC Exorcises What Would Have Made it Really Entertaining
Carly has been having nightmares recently where she’s following her mom Angela’s voice into dark buildings. She wants to brush them off but then her ex-boyfriend Martin shows up after a few years claiming he’s seen her mom recently. Thing is, Carly’s mom is supposed to be in prison, serving time for a double mass murder. So how did Martin see her?
Martin was part of a focus group for a medical company called Therapol and Angela was the test subject. Therapol has been working with a technology that can insert someone into a virtual environment where they can communicate with someone like Angela who now lies in a coma. They want to get in touch with Carly to see if she’ll go under and talk to her mom. Carly accepts their offer, if only for the chance for her to tell her to go to hell one last time. Hell may have beaten her to the punch.
If you have been following the story leading up to today’s release of Neil Blomkamp’s Demonic you know that he shot his first horror feature film here in Canada, during the pandemic with a small cast and crew. He financed the film himself, wrote, then directed it in secret. The story came from a combination of ideas that have been percolating in the director’s mind. Primarily, what if mass murderers were demonically possessed? Would that change how we perceive them? Basically he’s taking the insanity defense and making it supernatural, as other horror films have done so in the past. He runs with the idea and plays it out on a much smaller scale than we are used to seeing the director work with.
Demonic possession making good people do bad things is just one of a few tropes that you pick up on as you watch Demonic. There’s not much new in this regard. We get the tried and true possessed land bit and a contortion demon thrown in for a good scare later on in the film. Blomkamp did not set out to reinvent the wheel, rather challenge himself to make something different that what we have seen up to now.
Blomkamp brings his trademark use and blending of conceptual technology into normality to the genre . Other than a series of excellent short films in recent years his feature film work has never ventured full on into horror territory. Venturing into all manner of hellscapes and realities is common but the virtual world building in Demonic is cool and has a neat effect. In our opinion we think It’s better that the result of the volumetric capture is janky and distorted. Also, near the end there is a standout effect of the demon leaving a body that's just really, really cool. We wish there was more of that in the film.
Blomkamp has subverted our expectations, instead making a smaller film, with laser focus on Carly and Angela. So when the film picks up is when it begins to let us down. We cannot escape the sense that he is wrestling to fit big ideas in a smaller construct. We don’t believe that our expectations betray us here. Blomkamp has always effortlessly blended high tech into his films and to that end he fulfilled that promise. It is just too bad that everything else takes a second seat to Carly and her mom, including the scares.
Here is where we lose out because a lot of Blomkamp’s focus is on the relationship between Carly and Angela. All of the ‘big’ moments that happen outside of the relationship between Carly and Angela are left to aftermaths and outcomes. His recent spat of short films Blomkamp has delivered work that is scarier and filled with more terror.
We were excited when press leading up to the release of Demonic led us to believe that there was going to be a good dose of liturgically led ass kicking. Teaser images showed all manner of paramilitary hardware combined with religious iconography had us wondering what denomination of the Church did they come from and are they accepting new members. We don’t get to see the Holy rollers go after the demon in the final act, rather we are left with a number of bodies scattered around the grounds (some of which magically disappear in some befuddling continuation gaffs).
Kandyce McClure is all but a throw away in her role as Carly’s friend Sam, another victim of stuff that happens behind the scenes. Martin does fill in the role of the wise sage of exposition who will tell us everything we need to know about the demon that has possessed Angela. It is too bad that his face off with the demon is another instance of ‘when did that happen?’.
Demonic is missing the kind of set pieces that the director has been able to shoot before. At this point anything would have helped raisde Demonic above being just okay. Because of these omissions we are missing moments that would have elevated the threat and terror level. Either by choice or by circumstance there is not enough going on outside of Carly and Angela's relationship to make this horror film truly horrifying.