Netflix UK film review: Demonic
Frank Grillo's presence7
Josh Slater-Williams | On 30, Aug 2015
Director: Will Canon
Cast: Frank Grillo, Maria Bello, Dustin Milligan, Cody Horn
Watch Demonic online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Demonic, the second feature from director Will Canon, bears a resemblance to many of the horror movies from director James Wan, whose producing credit for this film is slathered all over its marketing. In the vein of Wan’s first two Insidious films and The Conjuring, Demonic is a slick-looking ghost story involving characters who deliberately investigate the paranormal, with recognisable DNA from ghost movies past and a couple of respected actors in prominent parts (here Mario Bello and burgeoning genre favourite Frank Grillo, of The Purge: Anarchy and the Captain America sequels).
The presence of the likes of Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor in the Wan films does wonders to help forgive some of their many shortcomings, and Grillo, in particular, acts as that same sort of anchor in Demonic. The trouble is that there’s even more shortcomings. Demonic doesn’t so much raise hell as it does flatline on the fright front.
Grillo plays Detective Mark Lewis, on his way to a romantic date with criminal psychologist Dr Elizabeth Klein (Maria Bello) when he’s called to a local house – the notorious Livingston House where, years before, the owner had committed a series of violent slaughters where only one person survived. It seems three young people have been found murdered on the premises, with one survivor, John (Dustin Milligan, wooden), unable to fully recall what went down with his friends, other than that two of them who were present are unaccounted for among the corpses, including his pregnant girlfriend (Cody Horn, offering a blanker turn than her oft-maligned performance in Magic Mike).
It turns out the group was attempting to perform a séance in the house, with several cameras set up to document the paranormal activity of the premises. As Elizabeth is brought in to interrogate John, Mark and the police attempt to retrieve footage from the corrupted camera hard drives they’ve found, to find out who or what killed the group. And then Elizabeth discovers John has quite the suspicious tie to past events at the Livingston House.
As expected since the finding of footage is part of the plot, the popular found footage technique of contemporary mainstream horror takes up a good chunk of Demonic, with more traditional shooting methods being used for the investigation and interrogation scenes, as well as flashbacks to the group’s initial arrival at Livingston. As may also be expected from the plot synopsis, Demonic is not a film that stretches any new ground. This is rarely an inherently bad thing, particularly for genre cinema, but the trick to overcoming redundancy is to at least bring some unique flourishes to the proceedings, whether via creative direction, a memorable scare that’s not like everything you’ve seen before, or at least some sort of palpably creepy atmosphere.
In execution, Demonic just feels like a filmmaking team ticking all the supposedly required boxes and hoping the tally adds up to an inherently thrilling product. And it just doesn’t. Grillo and Bello bring gravitas, but the younger lot are largely a drag to spend time with, the ghost and possession material is rote, and not one sequence has any sort of spark in terms of aesthetic, bar maybe one Poltergeist-riffing scene where instead of a guy ripping his face off in the mirror, we get a bird coming out of his mouth instead. Demonic is the kind of assembly line horror film that is never truly woeful in any regard, but has nothing to justify the time spent with it.
Demonic is now available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.