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I rarely review films still in theaters, but I felt compelled to share my stark disappointment with Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp's Demonic. I have watched hundreds of films since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but I have seen only one in theaters: Tenet. After seeing the amazing teaser trailer, I vowed to see Demonic in theaters its opening weekend. Whoever cut that preview, which ultimately uses almost every cool image and scare from the film, should be given a raise, as it absolutely hyped me up for a movie that does not exist. Blomkamp exploded onto the scene in 2009 with District 9, a compelling, post-alien invasion film with plenty of social commentary amid its action. His next two, bigger-budget efforts, Elysium and Chappie are narratively ambitious, visually arresting semi-disappointments. Since 2015, Blomkamp has flirted with making an Alien and a RoboCop film, opened his own production company, Oats Studios, and was set to direct a science-fiction thriller called Inferno with Taylor Kitsch. None of those have happened, yet, but I surprised to learn the director shot a surprise sci-fi/horror film during the pandemic. Unfortunately, Demonic fails to live up to its trailer and interesting premise, and is a surprisingly inert disappointment, full of recycled ideas but lacking in any meaningful scares.
Carly (Carly Pope) has unsurprisingly lost contact with her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt), as the latter was convicted of killing twenty six people, including Carly's grandmother, after setting fire to an assisted-living facility and poisoning members of a church congregation. Carly receives an unexpected text from estranged friend Martin (Chris William Martin), from whom she distanced herself after Martin theorized that Angela's conduct could be attributed to demonic possession. She agrees to meet, and Martin reveals that he was contacted by a medical company, Therapol, to attend a focus group dealing with real, hospitalized patients, including a comatose Angela. Therapol representatives subsequently contact Carly, who agrees to meet with scientists Daniel (Terry Chen) and Michael (Michael J. Rogers). They give a vague explanation of their work, which involves creating an immersive, three-dimensional simulation in which someone can be placed inside the mind of another person with the goal of learning information that can be used to comfort patients. In this case, the scientists want Carly to visit the mind of Angela, who is hooked up to lifesaving equipment and unable to speak. Carly reluctantly agrees and dives into the computer-assisted reality, where Carly meets Angela in their former home, explodes on her for her heinous crimes, and is then shocked when Angela tells Carly to leave. During her postmortem with Daniel and Michael, they ask her to go back into the simulation and see if she can get insight into Angela's mental state. When she does, Carly realizes something sinister lurks inside Angela's consciousness.
For having such an interesting concept, Demonic seems determined from its early reels to squander its potential. Blomkamp has thus far dwelled largely in the realm of science fiction, so it is natural that Demonic has plenty of those genre elements. Unfortunately, Blomkamp continues to prove incapable of turning high-concept narratives into satisfying films, and his first outing as a horror director is not a promising start. The first twenty minutes move smoothly. I enjoyed seeing Carly dive into the digital realm of her mother's mind, which the scientists can view on a monitor, and the film provides unique visuals in these segments, pixelating characters just enough to remind viewers this is the simulation. On her second outing, Carly encounters an agitated Angela and asks to be removed from the simulation. Her pleas are ignored, and she ultimately comes in contact with the evil lurking in the core of her mother's mind. Spoilers ahead!. A sanitarium is used as the home base for this evil, as that is where it latched onto Angela. This demonic evil is represented by a large, bird-like creature, which, while somewhat visually arresting, is not exactly the most frightening representation of hell I have seen on screen. The creature is able to harm Carly outside the simulation, and, once removed from the system, Carly flees back to Martin, who reveals his theory that these scientists are really Vatican priests searching for the truly possessed in order to exorcise their demons.
That eye-rolling revelation aside, Demonic still could have used its foundation to craft an entertaining and thoroughly creepy experience. Instead, the film struggles to maintain any tension amid a 104-minute running time that is far too long for the minimal amount of plot Demonic actually contains. Blomkamp gives the most cursory explanation for the evil within Angela, and is content to provide a couple of creepy drawings and some fungible backstory for the evil. The idea that the evil caused Angela to murder more than two dozen people is creepy; the execution and follow-through for this evil is unbelievably dull. There are no scares to be found in Demonic either. Other than a creepy moment between Carly and her longtime friend Sam (Kandyse McClure), this film is utterly devoid of anything frightening. Martin tells Carly time and again that the evil is now obsessed with and chasing her, but viewers do not see more than a couple of dull nightmares to support his allegations. The movie threatens to come back to life slightly during the climax, but ultimately devolves into tired genre cliches. Pope does her best to support the material, but Blomkamp gives her very little to work with. The low budget is certainly on display here, too, as most acts of violence occur off screen, the infrequent visual effects are unimpressive, and there are a couple of moments of poorly captured dialogue. Now four films in, Blomkamp does not seem to be improving as a filmmaker. Demonic lacks energy and narrative progression despite a promising concept, and is certainly the director's worst film to date.
I was very excited to watch Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp's Demonic after seeing its compelling trailers. Unfortunately, this sci-fi/horror mashup lacks energy and narrative follow-through despite an interesting concept. The director shoots a couple of spooky sequences and a handful of gorgeous landscapes in British Columbia, but Demonic ultimately cannot support its running time with a scant narrative that devolves into genre cliches. Skip It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.