Tech Exorcism Horror Demonic (2021) Forgoes Its Last Rites
First Wide Release: July 29, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Writer: Neil Blomkamp
Runtime: 104 Minutes
Starring: Carly Pope, Chris William Martin, Nathalie Boltt
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Carly (Carly Pope) is struggling with nightmares involving her estranged mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) when an old friend Martin (Chris William Martin) comes back into her life to share that her mother is at a high-tech hospital. Carly decides to visit to finally get closure and is met with a startling discovery. Her mother is in a coma and the doctors are asking Carly to interact with her using advanced technology to find out what more they can do to make her comfortable. After a startling confrontation, Carly realizes that her mother isn’t just paralyzed but is possessed by a powerful demon.
Demonic is a frustrating exercise where all the right ingredients are there but none of them combine into anything that works.
Demonic asks its audience to take more leaps than acceptable. From undercover priests to virtual reality consultations, it’s just a lot to take in without much in return. I get where Blomkamp is going here but the parts don’t really mix. The terror of Locked-In Syndrome is palpable and one that is rarely covered in horror, which is strange considering its skin-crawling effects. It doesn’t get fully utilized to be effective. While there are some great imagery and visuals, including the demon design which is truly terrifying, there is a certain lifelessness that exudes from the film.
There isn’t much depth to the characters in Demonic either. Carly doesn’t have much going on in her life. We know very little about her and her character arc lacks realism. She does not have any concrete driving motivations for most of what she does. This is a theme for many characters truthfully. They all pop in and out exactly when you need them, and they don’t do much other than advance the plot. We should know something about someone beyond the absolute essentials to the plot, and even then, we hardly get that. The cast does fine work with what they can, but it ultimately feels like a waste of time and talent.
By the final act, there’s a series of story and directorial choices that just get sillier and sillier as the finale progresses. Technology and demonic possession aren’t two ideas that are typically intertwined, which is why Demonic is so disappointing. I’m sure there is something lying underneath but it’s obfuscated by the mediocrity and generic nature of its script. The familial aspects of Demonic fall hard too. Everything is solved too neatly and quickly. Carly’s world transforms multiple times over the course of this study, and it still doesn’t feel authentic. Adding the sagging pacing, unearned reveals and arcs, and an indecisive tone, its lack of clear direction surrounding its themes and premise make Demonic a miss for me.
The virtual reality used in Demonic is an intriguing and severely underutilized aspect of the film. It straddles the line between uncomfortable and wistful, in what many are referring to as the Uncanny Valley effect. Basically, this idea, which is originally attribute to robots, sees humans finding unease, distress, or revulsion in response to something that is humanoid and highly realistic, yet not real. This has been expanded to include locations and situations that evoke the same feeling. Demonic dives in half-heartedly with its perception of what this technology might look like but then doesn’t go far enough.
Truthfully, I wanted to like Demonic more than I did. I do know, however, that I enjoyed it more than others based on the devastating critical reviews and audience scores. It’s an average film with far greater ambitions than the empty calorie watch it ends up becoming. The disappointment weighs heavy given Blomkamp’s previous successes and abilities. In the end, the premise is far better than its execution. Demonic is not solely one glitch but a continued series of design mistakes that ends with a whimper.
Overall Score? 5/10