Sunday, 29 August 2021

Demonic (2021)

The Power Of
VR Compels You

Canada 2021
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
AGC Studios

Warning: Okay, this one will have some mild spoilers.

Well it finally happened. I finally found a Neill Blomkamp movie which I didn’t mind. In fact, mostly I quite liked this one. I thought I might from the trailer of this one, which looks exactly like what it is... a kind of cross between old school exorcism movies and early David Cronenberg films.

Demonic was the opening UK premiere of this year’s FrightFest and the film centres on Carly, played by Carly Pope, who is still bombarded with nightmares from a time a decade or more previous, when her mother Angela, played by Nathalie Boltt, killed a lot of people as an expression of her personal psychosis. Then, one day, she is contacted by someone who went through her experiences with her, who she was trying to forget. Martin, played by Chris William Martin, tells her he was almost roped into some research at a medical facility, who had taken her mother, now in a coma, to have a part in it. He warns her not to get involved but it’s not long before the people in the shady clinic hone in on her and have her taking part in their experiments.

The experiments being a virtual reality style interface into her mum’s mind (a bit like the set up in The Cell) which allows people to communicate with her when they are asleep and hooked up, in a construct based on her mum’s memories. However, when Carly goes in there, it’s not just her mother who is in there but a demonic entity possessing her soul, which is the thing which has been making her behave in a psychotic manner all these years.

Carly doesn’t want to stay involved, especially after a demon manages to slice up her arm in a very specific way during a VR session. However, her dreams and nightmares follow her home and, when her best friend Sam, played by Kandyse McClure, somehow comes under threat by whatever is in the VR, it’s down to Carly and Martin to go find her and rescue her in a specific building and area from an incident in her mother’s past. Except, the people from the hospital are... while not exactly as shady as you might think... certainly not what they seem.

And I’ll leave it there in terms of plot because I don’t want to spoil it for any potential viewers. But, like I said, I found this a much more watchable and engaging movie experience from Blomkamp and I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Now, I have to warn potential viewers that this one is... well it’s not all that scary. There was one genuinely eerie set piece during one of the dream sequences about halfway through the movie which was actually unsettling, when Sam wants to show Carly something but... don’t go into this one expecting fast and furious jump scares because you may be a little disappointed.

However, that being said, not all horror films are scary and, as you know, I’m a big believer in comfort horror films and, judging from my twitter feed these days, I don’t think I’d be alone in that. And this one has all the hallmarks of something you would put on for a comfort hit on a weekend evening to relax to with a couple of drinks. It’s definitely got that old school horror vibe to it and I appreciated it, for sure. I mean, when a character hands her a ‘Holy lance’ which you just know is this film’s homage to the famous Spear Of Destiny, you just know you’re in good hands.

My biggest disappointment here were the three VR scenes in the movie. They’re pixilated with lots of artefacts and dropouts on the rendering and at first I thought the director was going down that old cliché route of showing all computer aided renderings in a terrible way to constantly remind the audience that they are watching... well... something electronically simulated. But then, as the film unfolded, I got to thinking this visual shorthand could be used to really pull the rug out from under the audience, if the quality of the virtual realm kept getting better and more realistic as the central character revisited each time, then surely you could switch it and immerse the viewer into an artificial reality identical to the way the real world is rendered for the characters and then use it to surprise or scare the audience at a key moment towards the end of the picture. Alas, this wasn’t to be and, at the end of the day, it turns out it really was just the on screen trick to clearly show the difference between the virtual and real worlds on screen. So that was a shame.

However, not a problem as even that added to the archaic, legacy feel of the material so, in a way, it just kind of elevates and maintains that nostalgic feeling. So, all in all, I would say that Demonic is the best Blomkamp movie I’ve seen and this looks way better, in terms of cinematography, to any of the previous works of his. If you’re into early 1970s horror movies and want another easy watch to add to the pile, then this movie is definitely for you. And, well... this may just turn out to be the first Blomkamp I pick up on Blu Ray when it (hopefully) comes out on that format. Catch this one if you can.

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