Demonic is the latest feature film direct by Neill Blomkamp, his first in 6 years, who rose to fame after his successful debut with District 9 in 2009. Sadly, Blomkamp’s next films, Elysium in 2013 and Chappie in 2015, never quite lived up to his debut so with Demonic expectations were high. However, despite a promising mix of sci-fi and horror the film just falls flat.
The film opens with Carly (Carly Pope) having a creepy dream about her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt). Not long after, while visiting friend Sam (Kandyse McClure), she receives a text from another old friend Martin (Chris William Martin), whom she hasn’t heard from in years. Carly has been estranged from her mother for over 15 years after Angela committed a series of murderous crimes that resulted in over 20 dead. However, Martin claims to have seen Angela lying in a coma in hospital, and despite reservations, Carly soon heads to investigate.
She meets Michael (Michael J Rogers) and Daniel (Terry Chen), two of the medical staff looking after her mother. Carly discovers that while incarcerated Angela turned to self-harm, with one particular episode causing brain damage that resulted in her current coma. Michael and Daniel reveal that they devised a method of entering the minds and dreams of coma patients in a sort of virtual reality, and they want Carly to do this with her mother, for reasons that are initially dubious. Carly agrees purely so she can tell Angela how much she hates her but soon discovers that she is not alone in the simulation, with her mother afraid of something Carly can’t see.
Carly returns to old friend Martin who has had theories about Angela’s condition for years, after suffering from disturbing dreams following an incident when they were younger. Martin believes Angela is suffering from demonic possession, and that the hospital treating her is a front for the Vatican, who are using technology to identify those being possessed so their staff of exorcists can complete an exorcism. After continuing to suffer from disturbing dreams and getting her friends involved, Carly must now pursue the demon and try and free her mother from its grasp.
The idea behind this film is a fantastic one, and the sci-fi aspects are definitely in keeping with Blomkamp’s previous efforts. The sci-fi and horror mix is unusual but actually had the potential to work really well. Unfortunately, however, it is so poorly executed that this promising idea is squandered. The biggest problem is that the virtual reality simulation is very poorly rendered and while you can understand the logic behind this as it’s a simulation, not real life, the poor graphics mean that anything happening in this world feels oddly dull and difficult to get into. There is one notably creepy moment in the simulation, but that’s about it and instead, it just feels like you’re watching a version of The Sims, and unfortunately far too much takes place in this virtual world. And when Blomkamp is finally given the chance for some action to happen in the real world, he wastes this, instead opting just to show us the bloody aftermath. While this isn’t terrible, watching the action take place first-hand would’ve been much more satisfying.
The other major issue with this film is the acting and the general coldness of the entire thing. I’m sure Carly Pope is a good actress, but the lack of direction here is evident. For most of the film, she seems to show little emotion regardless of what’s happening around her, and this gives the film a cold edge. Paired with cinematography that feels lacklustre and dull and a script that isn’t much better, the only saving grace is the score which is incredibly tense and haunting. But sadly even this comes across as ill-fitting as it never matches up to the action (or lack of) on screen.
With a promising storyline, Demonic could have been brilliant if handled correctly. However, it is so dull and poorly executed that it has really made me wonder if Blomkamp can ever return to the form he was on with District 9.
Signature Entertainment’s Demonic opens FrightFest 26th August and is at UK Cinemas, Premium Digital 27th August and Blu-ray & DVD 25th October
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!