August 20th, 2021
STARRING: CARLY POPE, CHRIS WILLIAM MARTIN, NATHALIE BOLTT, TERRY CHEN
DIRECTED BY: NEILL BLOMKAMP
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 1 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The impression I got from seeing the trailers of Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic was that the District 9 director was going back to square one. Similar to the way M. Night Shyamalan did with The Visit, this was going to be a reset for the South African director, making an independent film, and shedding himself of the massive box-office budgets, which can lead to too much control by the massive studio system. That may be the approach, but the result is not so good, where Demonic is a clunky mess. Blomkamp is attempting to blend his science fiction stylings into a standard demon possession story, but the final tally is a messy movie that never holds our interest. Demonic lacks in scares and fails to be as interesting as it attempts to be.
It’s not that my dislike of Demonic means I don’t like Blomkamp, in fact, the director is trying some different things here, which is something I will never fault an artist for doing. He’s taking a risk, especially working with a small cast, no big names like Matt Damon or Hugh Jackman, and hoping to make fans out of a new-age combination of science fiction with horror. That’s what makes Demonic’s shortcomings more painful, where the ideas are unique, but the execution is a stretch. It starts with a dream sequence, which might be the first mistake that Demonic makes, because scenes in movies where a character experiences a scare, only to wake in a heavy breathing panic feels a bit sophomoric, even for Blomkamp’s standards. Everything that follows is a series of big swings and misses till the end.
The main character is Carly (Carly Pope), someone that has been isolating herself from others for a long time, but she is now slowly reconnecting with friends. Out of the blue she receives a text message from her old boyfriend Martin (Chris William Martin) and when she decides to meet, she’s blindsided by the news that her estranged mother is in a comatose state, in a hospital that practices new-wave medical techniques. The discourse between Carly and her mother runs deep, but when she agrees to visit her in the hospital, the doctors on site- Terry Chen and Michael J. Rogers- reveal that they have invented an A.I. machine, which allows her to enter into her mother’s mind and have a full conversation. Like many science fiction films of this nature, entering into the mind of a person can lead to some scary dark places.
On paper, the premise of Demonic sounds cool, where the narrative enters into an animated, digital brain image world, which looks like a combination of rotoscope animation and an old IBM computer game. The problems, however, involve the little details, where Carly’s character just goes along with everything she is being told. There are cuts and scars all over her mother’s body, which she seems to not care about, plus the medical device looks incredibly dangerous to strap a bunch of wires to your brain and just hope for the best. There should be twenty or thirty more minutes of buildup, details where Carly is able to gauge exactly what is going on, but Blomkamp’s screenplay does not have time for that. The other failure is that Demonic is not scary. The odd behavior of various characters falls into the cliches of exorcism tropes, with crosses and secret religious societies pulling the strings, while Carly’s character continues to accept everything at face value, because the story must go on.
The best I can say about Demonic is that it attempts to be an original film, much like Blomkamp’s filmography before this, where Elyssium revealed a life in space for the wealthy, and the poor living on a desoluted planet. Or where Chappie tried to highlight a new kind of artificial intelligence, no matter how annoying it was. But similar to all those other films, Demonic is ultimately a failure. The performance from Carly Pope is what I would believe is her best effort, but the screenplay lets her down, while the narrative swerves everywhere, into conspiracy theories about religious sects, giant bird-like demons attempting to hunt Carly down, and a message about technology taking over our lives. Neill Blomkamp is working out his ideas, but no matter the size of the budget, Demonic is still another misfire. That doesn’t mean he should stop directing. Maybe he has someone else do the writing next time. Just a thought.
DEMONIC IS AVAILABLE IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON DEMAND THIS FRIDAY AUGUST 20TH
1 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady