FrightFest film review: Sorry About the Demon
Genuine affection for its characters7
Anton Bitel | On 29, Aug 2022
Director: Emily Hagins
Cast: Jon Michael Simpson, Paige Evans, Jeff McQuitty, Olivia Ducaven
When writer/director Emily Hagins presented the world premiere of My Sucky Teen Romance at FrightFest in 2011, she was barely old enough to attend the festival – but extraordinarily it was not her first or even second feature. In fact she debuted with Pathogen (2006) when she was just 14, followed by The Retelling (2010). So Hagins began her filmmaking career early and, despite the odd excursion into other genres – such as coming-of-age drama Grow Up, Tiny Phillips and crime romance Coin Heist – she has mostly stuck to her idiosyncratic, generally comic takes on horror, including recent contributions to indie anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (2013) and TV series Creepshow (2018), plus the hilarious curtain raiser for postmodern omnibus Scare Package (2019). Sorry About the Demon continues this pattern, as Hagins shows us the impact of a vicious human-hunting demon – and the various lost souls that it has enslaved – on the mundane lives of those who enter its domain.
That domain is an ordinary-seeming American home in the suburbs. The Sellers family – realtor Ken (Dave Peniuk), wife Tammy (Sarah Cleveland), teenaged son Jake (Jude Zappala) and younger daughter Grace (Presley Allard) – move out almost as soon as they move in. For having encountered Deomonous (voiced by Tony Vespe) – who has briefly taken possession of Grace’s body and whose ridiculous name is expressly flagged by Jake – they make a deal with him that, if they promise to find another human sacrifice for him to drag down to hell, then he will release Grace and even let them return to the property.
Enter Will (Jon Michael Simpson), a young, commitment-phobic toothpaste tele-salesman who has just been dumped by his girlfriend Amy (Paige Evans), and cannot quite believe that this big house is renting for less than his ex’s poky apartment. The catch manifests itself early and clearly – except to Will himself, who insists on regarding all these hoary, hokey supernatural incursions (creaking sounds, self-rocking chairs, menacing messages written on cake and furniture forming vertical piles) as just the normal quirks of an old build. Yet once he finally acknowledges that he has seen all this paranormal activity before, but only “in movies – scary movies”, he turns to childhood friend Patrick (Jeff McQuitty) for help, along with Patrick’s colleague from accounts: one-time spiritual cleanser and exorcist Aimee (Olivia Ducayen).
When Will first tries to tell Patrick about his bizarre domestic experiences, Patrick misunderstands his friend, imagining that Will is merely describing his personal struggles with a recent break-up and a more general lack of direction. Indeed, this becomes one of the film’s running jokes, and also its interpretative key, as Will’s battles with the diabolical presence in his new home, and the way he grows in his attempts to overcome it, run parallel with the more metaphorical “inner demon” that has been plaguing him ever since Amy showed him the door. And so scenes of possession and séances and exorcism – the bricks and mortar of demonic horror – cohabit in the same space as sweet if bumpy romance and somewhat belated, only partially Satanic, rites of passage.
Best of all, while Hagins gleefully exposes the callous greed and self-centredness of the bourgeois adults in the Sellers family, she shows an unapologetic sympathy with the sheer geekiness of late-Millennials Will, Patrick and Aimee and Gen-Zers Jake and Grace – a geekiness that no doubt the filmmaker herself and her target audience share. If you like your horror with charm, good humour and loads of sweet, sweet icing on the cake, Sorry About the Demon has all this aplenty – and, if you are worried that so much sugar could damage the sharpness of its bite, it has something for that too.
Sorry About the Demon had its world premiere at FrightFest 2022 and will be released on Shudder at a later date.