While we were all at home scared, eating ourselves into a COVID-coma last year, Neill Blomkamp (District 9) announced that he had completed a low-budget horror film entitled Demonic in relative secrecy. After several frustrating years dealing with projects trapped in Hollywood’s development purgatory, Blomkamp seized the opportunity to make a movie with the resources he had at his disposal. And good news: limited resources and a strong will are about all you need to make a halfway decent horror movie.
Demonic stars Carly Pope (Elysium) as a woman tormented by series of murders her mother committed twenty years earlier. Her mother, played by Nathalie Boltt (Riverdale) has been living in a comatose state after a severe head injury and has been moved from prison to a state-of-the-art medical research facility for experimental trials in a new virtual reality simulator. After learning of her mother’s condition, Carly (Carly Pope) agrees to enter her mother’s virtual mindscape to make contact with her, but little does she know that her mother isn’t in there alone. The entity that drove Angela (Nathalie Boltt) to murder is still living inside her, waiting for the day that it can jump into Carly and begin a new reign of terror.
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“Demonic may not add much to the possession subgenre beyond cutting-edge visuals, but it still features a pretty rad looking demon”
The trips into Angela‘s mind are really fun to look at. It’s sort of a blend between early PlayStation games and rotoscope animation à la A Scanner Darkly. It looks great, but it’s used to little effect in the overall story, other than to give Carly an opportunity to talk with her comatose mother. After those early scenes, there’s very little use for it, but it manages to stick around right until the finale where there’s a race to plugin for one last chat with mom, for some reason.
Its existence makes for a great introduction to the movie’s monster but its usefulness for bringing about scares expires quickly. At its lowest moments, Demonic is a disposable B movie, but for a low-budget horror made at a time when it seemed impossible to do anything but watch the news at home, Demonic is a perfectly serviceable monster-from-hell flick. Even if the monster looks like a long-beaked mascot for Satan’s softball team.
When we look back on the movies released in the early years of the 2020s, there will be an asterisk beside a lot of them. There’s been a dramatic shift in quality and content lately, I’m sure you’ve noticed. The COVID-19 Pandemic has become the main focus/inspiration for nearly every piece of art produced since March of 2020 but it also helped level the playing field a little bit. In terms of production, filmmaking was brought back to its most basics. Filmmakers were forced to work with what they had on hand, and what they could accomplish on a restrictive budget with minimal cast & crew.
Mixed in the glut of COVID-related stuff that’s been thrown at us non-stop are some real gems, like Host, but you can only take so many movies about a single event. Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic takes a decidedly different approach and forgets about COVID altogether. Regarding the asterisk that will appear next to its Wikipedia entry in the near future, Demonic is a refreshing pandemic picture because it doesn’t address the pandemic at all. Instead, it’s like any other pre-pandemic indie horror using shadows to hide its monster, building tension with a dark atmosphere, and leaning heavily on a fun gimmick.
The simulation that Carly walks through inside her mother’s mind is a really fun visual but it’s also something new to the possession subgenre. The Cell brought us into the mind of a serial killer back in 2000 but there are few (if any) that bring you into the mind of the possessed. Blomkamp has proven to be a pretty tech-obsessed storyteller and as outlandish as the device at the center of Demonic may be, it makes for some interesting dreamworld exploration. Her mother’s digitized memories, warped by the mind’s infallibility, are a step above what I was expecting from such a low-budget feature, but the demon (the real star of any possession flick) only appears in “the real world”. I would have loved to see big bad bird warping virtual reality for his demonic deeds but, sadly, it’s mostly where we go for the dramatic mother-daughter storyline.
Demonic may not add much to the possession subgenre beyond fun cutting-edge visuals, but it still features a pretty rad-looking demon who gets a good amount of screen time. The movie also manages to make priests look like an ultra-badass SWAT team for the Holy Spirit. Forget the holy water and prayer routine, these modern men of the cloth are armed to the teeth! Demonic starts off strong with a unique setup but it fails is in its boiler-plate approach with the rest of its story beats. Once we’ve established that there is a demon (a reveal given away by its title card alone) it doesn’t have very many cards left. Blomkamp seems more interested in the tech of his story (which is cool) than the terror it’s supposed to evoke. It’s the film’s fatal mistake and one that it never recovers from despite a fiery, demon-filled finale.
“Demonic starts off strong with a unique setup for the subgenre but it fails is in its boiler-plate approach with the rest of its story beats.”
From IFC Midnight, Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic is available in theatres and OnDemand beginning August 20. Let us know what you thought of this high-tech possession horror over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.