Demonic Synopsis: Terrifying demons confront Carly (Carly Pope) when she visits her comatose estranged mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) via technology connected to her consciousness.
Through meteoric successes and disjointed failures, Neill Blomkamp has established a career out of bold risk-taking. His debut feature, the best picture nominee District 9, was a true breakout, meshing inventive science fiction and Apartheid-era politics to create a rare commercial and critical success. Blomkamp’s success placed him on every executive’s radar, with several studios offering the director tentpole brands like Halo and Alien for his follow-up projects.
Instead, Blomkamp continued to embrace his singular storytelling perspective. Follow-ups Elysium and Chappie were similarly ambitious, but neither fully connected in their blend of storytelling and theme (no one has before or since thought to put Die Antwoord as the stars of their movie). After a six-year hiatus, Blomkamp returns in low-budget form with the sci-fi/supernatural horror hybrid Demonic. Blomkamp’s creative spirit radiates in full force, but this inert genre hybrid never congeals its plethora of ideas.
Even when his films aren’t jiving, Blomkamp still incites excitement from audiences. His marriage between supernatural horror and futuristic technology creates an intriguing blend of science and faith – two ideas that present intriguing thematic potential through the writer/director’s clever world-building devices. Whether it’s militant religious units or the metaphysical perspective of Angela’s comatose state, Blomkamp colorfully draws his world outside the conventions of standard genre fare. He and Cinematographer Bryon Kopman’s craftsmanship also excels at maximizing their low-budget assets. An assured mixture of ambient handheld camera work and sensible uses of CGI imbues the horror frames with a much-needed visceral spark.
Demonic’s surface-level intangibles are bursting with promise. It’s just a shame that Blomkamp’s film never connects on a fundamental level. Carly’s intimate journey through trauma and tragedy should serve as a magnifying force behind the film’s visceral horrors, but her central arc never generates much interest. The deficient character beats leave Demonic desperately lacking nuance and emotional sincerity, with the familial rift between Carly and Angela stagnating before it ever finds a rhythm. Neither Carly Pope nor Nathalie Boltt receives enough dramatic range to personify Carly and Angela past their surface-level emotions – a questionable decision considering the film’s reliance on off-screen backstory to connect the dots. The lack of investment constantly keeps audiences at bay from Blomkamp’s noble intentions.
Demonic’s breathless 104-minute experience never finds cohesion amidst its array of genre influences. The horror setpieces are admirably composed, but Blomkamp’s strict adherence to jump scares and conventional horror tropes detract from his filmmaking verve. As a piece of contemplative science fiction, Blomkamp confuses being cerebral as being emptily straight-faced. Neither conceit is executed to their fullest extent, creating a familiar problem of overindulgence for the admirably inventive filmmaker.
A lack of cohesion and emotional hook derailed Demonic for me, although I wouldn’t rule out Blomkamp’s latest from finding a supportive audience. I implore Blomkamp to continue to pursue innovative risks, even if the results continue to wain from his standout debut.
Demonic debuts in select theaters and VOD on August 20th.
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