Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
Starring Carly Pope, Nathalie Boltt, Chris William Martin, Michael J Rogers, Kandyse McClure, Terry Chen, Jason Tremblay, and Quinton Boisclair.
A young woman unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed.
Neill Blomkamp is on the verge of a groundbreaking experience with his latest narrative feature Demonic (his first since 2015’s horrendous misfire Chappie that suggested the Oscar-recognized greatness of District 9, which still has a sequel in the works, may have been a fluke), a return to basics and limited budget not without fascinating ambition. The narrative incorporates situations to allow for brand-new filmmaking technology, involving motion-capturing actors as geometric objects. In a nutshell, the characters are transported into a virtual reality space where they are rendered as intentionally pixilated and blotchy representations of themselves that blur the line between reality and animation. Think of it as entering a videogame but not quite.
The reasoning behind this work-in-progress experimentation is that a mysterious medical research company known as Therapol is conducting various studies on unconscious individuals, particularly those suffering from comas, while still able to formulate thoughts. Those who enter the simulation are really entering a dreamlike state of mind for the host (locations and events can be just as fragmented as an actual dream or nightmare, with the host capable of taking on a younger appearance) where the communication barriers are now broken. In theory, that sounds revolutionary. However, Demonic is also a horror movie, and for better or worse, Neill Blomkamp will expand on that concept to the farthest reaches of his mind.
Holding the story together is the traumatized Carly (Carly Pope), still shaken and having nightmares reliving her mother Angela’s (Nathalie Boltt) arson. She also reconnects with a pair of estranged childhood friends (they all had a falling out after Angelo’s disturbing actions), Sam and Martin (Kandyse McClure and Chris William Martin, respectively) that lead the way to visiting the above Therapol facility to reluctantly test out the simulation and have a conversation with her mom. Again, these interactions play with reality and fantasy in ways that genuinely feel fresh for cinema (between the HUD display statistics for Carly and selective camera angles, Demonic comes within inches of taking on the form of watching someone play a survival horror game within a cinematic landscape) and, as a result of the unknown in terms of both storytelling and filmmaking techniques, suspenseful.
For whatever reason (perhaps his budget constraints or needing to do another rewrite fleshing out the story and characters more), Neill Blomkamp isn’t concerned with committing to that new filmmaking technique. That would also be fine if the rest of the movie were as strong as those scenes, but whenever outside the simulation, Demonic dips into clichéd supernatural writing featuring everything from characters quickly researching information on the Internet to drawing out clues in their nightmares to a somewhat lame looking raven-based creature, all with awkward dialogue and poor delivery. Sadly, every one of those elements pales in comparison to the grand reveal about the Therapol scientists, which doesn’t even receive much elaboration or focus following their true intentions as it appears more scenes were shot centering on them but were promptly removed, most likely upon Neill Blomkamp realizing that it doesn’t gel with the attempt of the character-driven mother/daughter reconnection. Bluntly, it’s hilariously stupid to the point where a good amount of people will probably shut the movie off.
By the time Carly goes back into the simulation one more time with all of the answers for one last encounter with her mom, Demonic has lost all of its appeal of originality and breakthrough usage of technology. It’s the film Neill Blomkamp wanted to make, but 30 minutes in opts to settle for an average possession story with lazy copouts such as dreams within dreams for a false sense of danger. The good news is that a much more talented filmmaker will probably take notice and do something awe-inspiring with volumetric geometry.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com