'Demonic' Doesn't Possess Much Creativity Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Starring Carly Pope, Chris William Martin, Nathalie Boltt
'Demonic' Doesn't Possess Much Creativity Directed by Neill Blomkamp
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What do you get when you combine a virtual reality world in the vein of Black Mirror's "Playtest," a Stranger Things-esque monster and an estranged mother-daughter narrative? You get Demonic, the latest feature film from District 9 writer and director Neill Blomkamp. But even with a melting pot of interesting horror elements and a compelling concept of family trauma buried beneath a supernatural mystery, Demonic doesn't possess nearly as much charm or creativity as it aims for.

Carly (Carly Pope) is a woman plagued by nightmares of her estranged mother, Angela (Nathalie Boltt), and whose life is shrouded with secrets from a dark past. When she learns Angela has become comatose due to a violent incident, she is recruited by a medical company called Therapol to participate in an experiment. In it, she is placed into a 3D simulation wherein her mother's conscience exists in an attempt to communicate with her. Unbeknownst to Carly, a sinister plot is brewing behind the scenes involving a supernatural force that threatens the lives of Angela, Carly and her peers, and they must work together to unravel it before it's too late.

Demonic wastes no time in telling us exactly what's going on, what each character wants and how they'll go about doing it. The little flicker of mystery the narrative tries to set up in the first 20 minutes of the film rapidly fizzles out, and most scenes following are vehicles for exposition or for a secondary character to explain something to Carly, who isn't an active protagonist and whom we learn very little about as a character aside from her past trauma. There's a lack of a fight or struggle within the story — Carly immediately agrees to join the experiment despite knowing next to nothing about Therapol as a company and switches her mind about her mother instantly once she discovers new information, despite having years of pent up hatred toward her. Carly's conspiracy theorist friend Martin (Chris William Martin) has researched the theory that a demonic possession is involved with Therapol off-screen and shares it with Carly all within one scene, and, just like that, he is correct about it on the first try. This leaves Carly with nothing to discover on her own to advance the plot, making the narrative feel like one big Wikipedia article about demonic rituals and sacrifices. There is no hesitation or pushback, and thus no suspense.

Horror about the trauma of a dysfunctional family is a subgenre of its own, and can be done in excellent and innovative ways, such as Hereditary or The Haunting of Hill House. Parent-child relationships especially can be complicated even without the freaky monster demon stuff, and this is where Demonic had the most potential. Again, however, we learn so little about what Carly and Angela's relationship was like before they became estranged or what kind of bond they had that the audience has nothing to latch onto. Carly talking about how much she hates Angela are just words. It's clear Carly is tormented by her past and what her mother has done to her, but with no display of their relationship aside from one flashback sequence and with a forgiveness arc that feels rushed and undeserved, it falls limp.

Demonic had decent performances and promised a captivating concept about a woman's warped mission to work through her scars to save her mother and herself from a grim fate. Ultimately, however, it didn't care enough to build a strong story or developed characters around that concept. (VVS)