Review by Sean Boelman
There has been a long history of cult-favorite filmmakers creating some of their best work after a franchise project falls through, and while Demonic may not be a hit on the hands of Neill Blomkamp, it’s still a ton of fun. Less than satisfying as a horror movie but surprisingly cool for an action flick, this film is heavily driven by its cool ideas.
The movie tells the story of a young woman who realizes that there might be supernatural forces at play when she is suddenly drawn back into the life of her estranged comatose mother. There is no denying that the story is pretty dumb — it involves simulated reality and a band of militarized Vatican exorcists after all — but it’s just wacky enough to work.
Ultimately, the first hour of the film is pretty much exposition drawing us into this world. And then there’s a “twist” (which isn’t really a twist, because the title gives away the true premise) that allows it to go off-the-wall. It turns from being an intriguing, if somewhat shallow psychological thriller into a bonkers B-movie action-horror extravaganza, and the pure ambition that Blomkamp brings to the table is entertaining.
There are some interesting ideas in the first half about childhood trauma, but these don’t really pay off in the second half which is much faster-paced. The emotional resolution to the protagonist’s arc feels forced and sappy, and it seems out-of-place given the much darker nature of the rest of the film.
Something else that is missing in the movie is a deeper investment in its mythology. The main antagonist of the film is just a generic demon, and some more specificity in this regard definitely would have helped. The secondary antagonists are far more interesting and intriguing, but they aren’t given a whole lot of time in the spotlight.
The lead actress Carly Pope is solid in her role, although her turn admittedly isn’t that subtle. The chemistry she has with Nathalie Boltt, who plays her mother, is definitely noteworthy, though. In the supporting cast, Terry Chen and Michael J. Rogers both have a few really fun moments.
Audiences will likely be divided by the visual style of the movie. Much like a majority of Blomkamp’s work, this is heavy on CGI effects, but they take a very different form than usual. There are a lot of volumetric capture sequences (the animation is reminiscent of A Scanner Darkly, in a way) that look really interesting but may distract some.
Demonic is certainly a very messy film, even more so than the rest of Blomkamp’s filmography. However, there is something very charming about the heights for which the filmmaker is shooting, and the result is something that is a really cool watch.
Demonic hits theaters on August 20 and VOD on August 27.