After years of estrangement, a woman reconnects with her convict mother, who is in a coma, with the use of cutting-edge simulation technology. Inside the simulation, the woman learns a truth that threatens to destroy her.
Writer and directors Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie) is known for his sci-fi films. This time, he takes a stab at the horror genre with Demonic. Audiences are introduced to Carly, a woman with a troubled past that estranged her from her mother and one of her best friends. She learns that her convict mother is in a coma and has been entered into an experimental medical program that creates a virtual world for the patient to live in. The doctors ask Carly to enter the simulation to communicate with her mother. From there, Carly’s life is turned upside down and she learns shocking new truths about her mother’s crimes. The plot starts out quite promising. The audience is slowly introduced to new ideas and mythology while simultaneously getting to enter this virtual world with Carly. It makes for some haunting moments and interesting twists to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Unfortunately, Demonic falls apart in the third act. Everything feels quite rushed and too neatly tied up, making for what should be the most suspenseful moment of the film less than thrilling. The mythos around the demonic entity itself is quite interesting, but then Blomkamp doesn’t take the time to really cultivate that mythology. It is just thrown at the audience in a single scene, along with some information about the medical facility who created the simulation. The climax introduces a weird, militaristic element that also detracts from the terror because it was only briefly mentioned before and feels like something that belongs more in a sci-fi film than the horror film viewers have watched up to that point. Then, there is probably one of my biggest issues with the film, and that is that it follows the tragic horror trope of using POC characters simply to add to the body count.
For the most part, the performances in Demonic are enjoyable. Carly Pope (Popular, Orange County) stars as Carly. When we meet Carly, she is full of anger towards her mother and the trauma she experienced. Pope is wonderful at conveying how that trauma has shaped Carly as a person, while also showing her feelings grow and change as she learns new information throughout the film. Michael J. Rogers (Beyond the Black Rainbow, Continuum) also delivers a memorable performance as Michael, one of the doctors working in the medical facility. Rogers makes this character mildly creepy from the moment you meet him and that feeling of unease only gets stronger as the plot progresses. He especially is a standout in the otherwise messy final act. Honorable mention goes to Terry Chen (The Expanse, Jessica Jones) and Nathalie Boltt (Riverdale, District 9).
The strongest aspect of Demonic is definitely the visuals. The simulation looks as though the characters are dropped into a virtual reality game. It is something you don’t often see in film and I wish the filmmakers had leaned into that aspect a bit more. It allows for a lot of unique imagery and a frightening introduction to the demon. Sadly, there just isn’t enough of the simulation world shown in the film. The creature design for the demon is another highlight. It not only has a big, imposing silhouette, but it also has terrifying features making it just as frightful when shown in more light. Seeing how creepy the creature design is only makes me wish there was more backstory on the demon.
Demonic introduces delightful technology and a frightful demon, but ultimately fails to deliver on either promise. There is enough to hold the audience’s interest in the first half of the film. Yet things slowly unravel as the secrets are unearthed, leaving an unsatisfying climax. The concept created here by Blomkamp is very interesting, but it doesn’t come across as fully developed in terms of the plot or the character development. The performances help make the film enjoyable enough to watch, but the real star is the visual effects. There just should have been more of those effects woven throughout the film.
OVERALL RATING: 5/10