Cast: Carly Pope, Chris William Martin, Michael J. Rogers, Nathalie Boltt, Terry Chen. Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
After smashing onto the scene with the awards nominated District 9, director Neill Blomkamp fast became a director to watch. His mixing of sharp political subtext and science fiction thrills clearly won over audiences. His follow-ups: Elysium and Chappie continue to mix comments of political issues with science fiction to a more mixed reception. It might actually be Blomkamp’s aborted movies that remain the most interesting – his failed attempt to bring the Halo game series to the screen, his proposed Alien 5 that Ridley Scott killed dead, and his proposed reboot RoboCop Returns.
Clearly having gotten fed up with films not getting made, he has used the Covid pandemic to make this science fiction horror film. Demonic follows a woman who enters a virtual reality to communicate with her mother and in the process is drawn into a demonic ritual.
Blomkamp is not an idiot, he’s a very clever man and a talented filmmaker. Even his questionable works like Elysium featured interesting elements, while Chappie at the very least had a scary Hugh Jackman in shorty short-shorts – with a scene that clearly echoed RoboCop. But, whatever talent he has is lacking here. His usual subtext appears to be missing aside from the basic “big companies bad”, and it appears even his standard collaborator Sharlto Copley can’t be arsed to show up for a cameo.
Made on a low budget shouldn’t be a signifier of something bad, after all the budget for District 9 wasn’t anything spectacular but even so the effects were used well and the story was engaging, part body-horror part riff on Alien Nation. The acting is all very basic, and while the film attempts at a slow burn it instead turns into a long plod. It’s very low on tension, and even lower on interest.
It hurts the film that the demonic monster at it’s core looks like something from the David Tennant era of Doctor Who – specifically the weird chicken aliens with water bottle mouths, you know the ones. The virtual reality mixing with demonic could be a good idea if the script knew what to do with it, but it feels like a film still in it’s first draft, rushed into production because everything was open to do a film since the world had fallen apart.
That’s not to say that there is no hope for Blomkamp, there are images that stay in your mind. The sight of a door being attacked, a fire engulfing a room, things of that nature, and to her credit Carly Pope keeps an admirably straight face as things get more and more absurd but there’s just very little of interest to keep attention from intriguing start to standard end.