VOD film review: Demonic
Ivan | On 02, Sep 2021
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Carly Pope, Chris William Martin, Nathalie Boltt, Michael J Rogers, Andrea Agur
From District 9 to Elysiun, Neill Blomkamp is a director whose ingenious world-building – coupled with a heart-on-his-sleeve sincerity – has made for a distinctive career of genre entertainment that packs a pointed punch. Demonic, his latest after a six-year gap (during which mooted RoboCop and Alien projects were announced and cancelled), is something of a return to roots, delivering a low-budget slice of indie horror with some bold flourishes of imagination.
The film follows Carly (Carly Pope) who is persuaded to visit her comatose mother (Nathalie Boltt) as part of a new medical study. A convicted serial killer, Angela is suffering from a brain injury, but has been communicating with a team of groundbreaking scientists through virtual reality simulations – and has apparently asked to see Carly. And so she agrees to go into this digital labyrinth, but what begins as a cathartic chance for her to tell her mother how she really feels turns into something darker and more surprising.
To say that the end result involves demon would hardly be a spoiler, but what is a shock is just how much Blomkamp fails to capitalise on his intriguing premise. It begins with bundles of promise, thanks to some visually striking work to bring to life this pixellated limbo. Part-rotoscope, part-uncanny valley, it’s a strange new world that finds creepy atmosphere in its shape-shifting, not-quite-concrete forms.
But soon enough we’re back in the real world, where conversations with Carly’s old friend, Sam Exposition (Kandyse McClure), turns things into a plodding horror that increasingly backs away from new territory into familiar convention. The result, despite the efforts of the committed cast and a novel take on concepts such as exorcism, feels like a laboured whimper rather than a bang – and, while the production pulled off the impressive achievement of putting this all together during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a shame that the restrictions facing the project didn’t spark something more creative.