The latest film from director Neill Blomkamp is another example of the directors diminishing returns since his debut in 2009, with the widely praised District 9. Since then, Blomkamp has gone on to direct Elysium, Chappie and now Demonic. Each of those films has failed to excite audiences or critics, with his latest effort continuing that trend with its lack of substance or thrills.
Filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Demonic represents another film that has suffered artistically during this period. While Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth tried to use the restrictions of the pandemic to its advantage, Demonic instead seems content to admit its failings and do nothing to rectify them. The film introduces us to Carly (Carly Pope) – a young woman who has long been estranged from her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt). An interesting, but ultimately pointless nightmare sequence opens the film, and it isn’t until much later in the film that we find out exactly what happened between the two. After not seeing her mother for some time, Carly’s friend Martin (Chris William Martin), himself also somewhat estranged from Carly, gets back in touch with his old friend to inform her that he has seen her mother in a hospital and that she is now in a coma. Taking up Martin’s claim, Carly digs deeper and finds that her mother is in a research facility run by a shadily named company called Therapol. Agreeing to meet with two of Therapol’s scientists, Carly is invited to interact with her mother via a simulation. Agreeing to this, Carly has a 3D model of herself created and is then sent into the mind of Angela. Here she finds a simulation of her childhood memories and is able to confront her mother for the first time in years. During the simulation, Carly is warned to leave and never come back, her mother fearing that something far more sinister is in there with them.
It would be unfair to say that Blomkamp lacks ideas in his films. It is plainly clear that the former special effects artist is full of plentiful ideas, but his films indicate he doesn’t possess the nous to carry them to the screen. Here, for instance, we see a film overflowing with potential. Demonic explores the idea that supernatural possession exists, and that demons may be hiding in the bodies of people suffering from severe medical conditions. It also explores the strained relationships that can exist between children and their parents, and how they may also effect their relationships with those closest to them. But what Demonic fails to do, is explore any of these ideas. Even the idea that the Vatican employs a black-ops team to eliminate these demons, all under the guise of companies like Therapol is raised and then spectacularly forgotten about. It is perhaps the latter that is the most frustrating. For anyone who longed to see Blomkamp’s sequel to Aliens, the sight of an armed forces unit gearing up to take down the supernatural seems like fanboy wish fulfilment. Only, Blomkamp soon ditches this and only shows us the aftermath as we find the squad dead or dying. It’s a bit like if James Cameron made Aliens, but removed any scenes with the marines or the aliens, and just left in the bits where Ripley is talking to Burke and Gorman.
The story is rote, and the acting is largely poor. There are no scares in this supposed science-fiction horror, and the plot holes are as wide as the Mersey tunnel. Blomkamp’s attempts to blur the lines between reality and the digital world where Carly must interact with her mother are some of the most interesting parts, with the 3D aesthetic feeling much like a Playstation 2 video game. It builds another world for the characters to explore, but is used far too sparingly and as the film enters its middle & final acts – it is just another feature that is completely disregarded. These are the failings of Blomkamp’s latest film. Aspects are completely forgotten, while the plot goes nowhere and the actors are stifled by what they have to work with. I do try to avoid sass when it comes to reviewing films, but after watching Demonic, it is easy to see why Blomkamp and his Aliens sequel were disregarded as quickly as they materialised.
Demonic will open this years FrightFest in London on 26 August, and will be in cinemas from 27 August.