Neill Blomkamp used to be a name recognized for sci-fi. He had his first breakout hit with 2009’s District 9. On a relatively small budget, he delivered a stirring sci-fi adventure in South Africa.
He would continue to develop more films of this nature. These pictures were pretty much the same in their depictions of apartheid. The likes Elysium and Chappie revealed that Blomkamp’s scope was pretty limited, geographically and thematically.
So it’s a tad intriguing to see him step into a different genre. Demonic doesn’t feel like Blomkamp’s usual type of film. Sadly, that’s about all it has to boast.
The Haunted Mind of Memories
The film follows the sorrowful Carly (Carly Pope). She can’t shake the horrific nature of her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) who was convicted of various killings. Her rampage of burning down buildings and poisoning others couldn’t quite be understood.
The company of Therapol, however, may have an answer. They’ve developed a new piece of technology that allows you to jump into someone’s mind. Perhaps Carly can find out the reason why her mother went on such a killing spree.
The mind-diving technology is pretty neat visually. I dug how this experimental tech projects a glitchy vision of both Carly and Angela. It’s a staging that adds an extra level of terror and surrealness to the experience.
The scenes were shot with some clever tech that allowed Pope and Boltt to be shot on sound stages. They could then be placed anywhere, adding to the off-putting nature. It was also a pretty safe method to shoot during the Covid-19 pandemic.
These sequences are quite compelling. I loved the distortion of reality where gravity and place hold little meaning. Anything can be changed and anything be witnessed in this fever-dream of a mental journey.
The Lesser Story
The placement of the tech, however, makes the rest of the film rather dreary and uninteresting. Had the film only been about Angela’s adventure ala The Cell, it could have been great. Sadly, the film dips out of virtual reality into a lesser reality.
About 70% of the film takes place in Angela’s reality and it’s rather uninteresting. She hooks up with a childhood friend Martin (Chris William Martin) to find some normalcy. Their chemistry is rather dry and doesn’t really work.
Angela also interacts with the Therapol. She is interviewed about her experience and the scientists are clearly hiding something from her. What they later reveal is that there may be demonic spirits involved.
This Ain’t No Ghostbusters
The moment the scientists mentioned ghosts, my heart sank. What I thought was going to be a cerebral horror turns out to be just another supernatural horror. There’s little in this department to separate it from the myriad of similar pictures.
I suppose the twists of the mind scientists being ghostbusters was supposed to be exciting. How I wish it were that clever. Their interest drops when they start strapping on armor and preparing to battle with a demon as though it were a criminal than a ghost.
I questioned what good guns were going to do in defeating something supernatural. It’s only during the third act when the demon-hunting team reveals they have a holy lance. How convenient that they just happened to have that on them after having endured the demon’s wrath.
A Dismal Horror
This film has some frustrating pacing problems. The film starts off slow by trying to slowly weave Angela’s history and issues. That’s the kinda pace you want for a more cerebral film that this picture teases us with.
That speed doesn’t exactly bode well when the film switches gears midway through. A conspiracy theory transforms the film into more of an action-horror picture harping on demonic elements. The slow pace does not work well from this angle.
While the VR world of the mind was interesting to look at, the horrors of reality are less alluring. The demon is mostly obscured to dark shadows and corners in the outdoors, complete with a standard deep voice. We don’t even get to see the grotesque elements of the demon savaging his attackers, arriving late to the party.
Less Character and Contemplation
More care was clearly put into the tech and twists than anything else. Sitting through Carly’s trippy discovery of her mother’s past is intriguing. Sitting through the exposition of demon lore and possession is a chore.
I also really didn’t dig what the film may suggest with its staging. Angela is initially seen as a killer with issues. That’s an apt opportunity to explore how the mind can degrade.
Instead, the film chooses to explain away these actions as being that of a demon. That’d be fine if the picture were a mere possession flick. Having Carly try to come to terms with her mother, however, gives off mixed messages about grief and family love.
While Blomkamp hasn’t lost his flair for visual effects, his storytelling aspects are dwindling. Kudos to him for stepping outside his comfort zone with a genre he’s not as known for. A film like Demonic, however, needs a far more focused script to be more engaging.
Given that Blomkamp acts as director, writer, and producer on this project, it’s clear he’s not a one-man show. He may have a way with sci-fi to make audiences perk up and take notice. He can’t exactly hold a crowd for horror, despite all the fancy tech he places upon the genre.
Did you see Demonic? What did you think? How does it compare to the horror film The Night House? Let us know in the comments below.
A supernatural horror that is more interesting as a VR adventure than a ghost-hunting drama.
- Interesting technology.
- Solid premise for grief.
- Decent performances.
- Dreary pacing.
- Uninteresting demon hunt.
- Subpar supernatural elements.