August 20, 2021 Demonic (Movie Review)
Neill Blomkamp is a writer/director with one of the most interesting and eclectic resumes in movies. His work spans from acclaimed feature-length films, short films, and experimental shorts, all from his independent company, Oats Studios. As his last feature length was 2015’s Chappie, fans were expecting another big budget release for his next project. Instead, they were handed the lower-budget Horror film, Demonic, whose trailer stirred quite a bit of excitement when it was released a couple of months ago. Thankfully, fans can now judge the entire film for themselves when it arrives in theaters on August 20th and to VOD & Digital on August 27th via IFC Midnight.
Demonic packs a strong sense of atmospheric dread and offers some scary creature effects, but it’s an overall mixed bag with one too many ideas going for it. That said, the story focuses on a young woman, Carly (Carly Pope: Elysium 2013, Arrow series), who is somewhat struggling to distance herself from traumatic events in her past. Oddly, one day she receives a text from Martin (Chris William Martin: Chaos Theory 2008, The Vampire Diaries series), an old friend who shares in that past trauma, who says he was contacted by a shady medical research company. Supposedly on the cutting edge of neurotechnology, they offered him money to be a member of a special focus group.
If that doesn’t sound strange enough, it turns out one of the patients at the facility in question is Carly’s mother, Angela (Nathalie Boltt: District 9 2009, Riverdale series), who is connected to the aforementioned past events with Martin and her daughter. Clearly, this is not a coincidence, and contacting Martin appears to be a roundabout way of getting to Carly. As her mother is comatose, it seems as though the researchers hope to use the connection between mother and daughter to reach Angela. Utilizing the now common trope of entering another person’s consciousness through advanced tech, the film’s true twist comes when Carly enters the dream world and things quickly take a supernatural tone.
Demonic’s strengths are in this world and the subsequent fallout from entering Angela’s consciousness. The digital projections and creature effects are excellent, and the dread is palpable whenever the big bad is around; it doesn’t have to do much to be effective. We soon learn the cause of the rift between Angela and Carly, as well as the connection between those events and what led them to the present situation. If the story stayed focused there it would have worked better, but other, half-realized ideas such as the true identity of the company and their motives aren’t fleshed out enough to live up to their potential.
The writing and performances are not bad but nothing to write home about either. What ought to be a very emotional rift between Carly and Angela never quite reaches the resonance it needs. This is perhaps because too many parts of the story seem to be heavy on exhibition but weaker on cohesion.
That said, there is quality Horror to be found. Where the connections between most characters fall a bit short, the possession/demon aspects are very strong. The big bad establishes itself immediately upon entry into the film, and impressively permeates the rest of the story with terror by the threat of simply existing. It’s certainly an implacable enemy, with a number of ways to assert its evil agency in both the subconscious and real world. More focus on this and the struggle to keep it in check would have served the story better.
Blomkamp has developed a reputation as a creative mind with some great ideas but doesn’t always seem to be able to realize their full potential, and Demonic is in that same vein. While the framework of the story is appealing, and the execution of the Horror is solid, a lot of what should hold up the story to make it complete is somewhat lacking. It’s still worth checking out for what it does right, but one can’t help but lament how it could have been improved with a little more focus. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Demonic 3 out of 5 stars.