Demonic is the latest film from Neill Blomkamp, who wowed the world with his debut (and undeniably his best film), District 9. Over the next decade, Blomkamp only finished two feature films, Elysium and Chappie. However, he has had numerous projects in development hell, such as the ill-fated Halo film and a new sequel to the Alien series that erases the third and fourth films of the franchise… 3 is my favourite Alien film. He was even set to make a sequel to the original Robocop—again something that never happened—and he was eventually replaced. So 2020 happens and COVID strikes, and Blomkamp is itching to do something, so he makes a detour from the socially conscious sci-fi films he has become known for to direct what is essentially a schlocky, low-budget horror film.
The story is utterly ludicrous, with Carly Pope playing… Carly, who is long estranged from her mother, a woman who went on a murderous rampage when Carly was younger. Her mother is in a coma, and the mysterious corporation Therapol wants her to visit. When she gets there, they want her to go into a “simulation” to communicate with her comatose mother. Soon enough, stranger things start happening to Carly, and there ends up being a conspiracy involving Vatican-funded black ops to combat demonic possession.
Blomkamp clearly loves Tarsem Singh’s criminally underrated and utterly beautiful The Cell, which is about child psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), who enters a serial killer’s mind in a very similar fashion. However, as good as Blomkamp can be a director, he is no Tarsem Singh. And to be totally honest, you would expect a film as slight as Demonic to be perhaps the kind of Netflix Original that you check out a year after it drops, if it was not so heavily advertised as Blomkamp’s first film in over five years. While at times his filmmaking is incredibly striking, here it feels strangely amateurish.
Demonic isn’t quite as terrible as the initial reviews made out, but it wasn’t completely unfairly targeted, as it has undeniable flaws. The cinematography is fairly weak, and the film does seem like an excuse for Blomkamp to make something mid-pandemic and to have a excuse to fuck around with Volumetric Capture, which I don’t fully understand, to be truthful. The performances from the cast are pretty bland, nobody strands out in a particular positive or negative fashion. The cast is full of TV actors, probably due the fact that it was shot in Vancouver and put together fairly quickly—a lot of TV is shot in Vancouver.
In the end, Demonic is an interesting failure. Blomkamp is aiming for something intriguing, but constantly loses the narrative: the Vatican-funded black ops network is a great idea, but he doesn’t go anywhere with it. Hopefully the film hasn’t completely killed Blomkamp’s career, coming after increasingly disappointing projects—especially since his next film is the long-awaited District 10 (although you should probably keep your expectations in check.)
The disc includes an 8mm diary of the making of the film, some Volumetric Capture samples from Blomkamp, and a short stunts featurette.