Directed by Ain Mäeots
Starting with the end of one story and the beginning of another, deliberately manipulating timelines to fit the narrative and theme, Estonian director Ain Mäeots' sophomore film, Demons, tackles the cyclic nature of gambling addiction, mirroring and reiterating the motivators and behaviours that caused the 2008 economic crisis. Though the country has quickly recuperated on a global front, the very nature of wish fulfillment impulse and capitalist instant gratification ethos has the capacity to repeat, much like the trio of tragic stories depicted within this very steady and consistent character drama.
Joko (Tambet Tuisk) enters the central Casino connecting these three characters with the best of intentions, attending a work function supporting the launch of a "Paradise" marketing campaign for the venue. Falling into some unexpected winnings, Joko briefly lives the capitalist dream he's advertised to a wide customer base, which starts him down the path to addiction, unbeknownst to his pregnant wife.
His trajectory, wherein he gambles away his existing savings while simultaneously buying unnecessary and expensive home upgrades, results in compounding lies and an implosion of everything he values. This is similar to the experience of Reeda (Ene Järvis), an elderly tutor who starts hocking jewellery and household appliances in an effort to sustain her addiction.
And while these stories cover different demographics, externalizing the dangers of addiction on family, friends and oneself, Ants' (Ain Lupstepp) internal psychological battle with gambling, as dictated by his discussions with his conscience, ties together the inner-motivations and struggles of those working through the titular "demons."
Heightening the artificiality of the proposed motivations is Mäeots aesthetic palette of hyper-saturated neon colours that generate an eerie, otherworldly glow throughout the film. This colour scheme is smartly juxtaposed with the steady, naturalistic aesthetic used outside of the casino and clubs, giving a sense of comfort whenever the characters retreat to the family's they routinely lie to.
It's little touches like this, and the overall defiance of linear time, that keeps Demons from devolving into standard, flat, television admonitory. Mäeots' directorial style is very even and unobtrusive, focusing more on the performances than any specific stylizations, which helps makes everything accessible and universal, but without those minor embellishments and clever artistic decisions, there wouldn't anything particularly complicated or cinematic about this borderline afterschool special.
In such, the subtleties are what ultimately make this socio-economic parable more intriguing than the standard, well-acted drama it initially presents as.
Demons screens on Saturday, November 24th at 8:30pm at the Royal.
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