Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Demonic Possession: The Key to a Good Night's Rest
Demonic is Neill Blomkamp’s first full-length film in six years. After Chappie in 2015, Blomkamp shifted his focus to ten cinematic shorts between 2016 and 2019. He also worked on a fifth Alien film that was shelved once Prometheus was successful enough to warrant a sequel and tinkered away at a RoboCop reboot that was also eventually drop-kicked into nonexistence.
This film is Blomkamp’s first full-on attempt at the horror genre. Demonic was filmed in secrecy in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carly (Carly Pope) dreams about her mother, Angela (Nathalie Boltt), even though she hasn’t seen her in over a decade. Angela’s troublesome past has caught up with her and she now finds herself paralyzed, in a coma, and as part of a medical research study. The facility Angela finds herself in, Therapol, contacts Carly to be a part of a simulation that will hopefully be able to communicate with Angela and allow her to pass with fewer complications. However, the doctors at Therapol seem to have ulterior motives and Carly continues to have disturbing and violent dreams involving her mother every night.
Demonic is to Neill Blomkamp what The Reckoning is to Neil Marshall. Both films are incredibly low budget in comparison to the rest of their films. However, despite Demonic being filled with mostly unknown actors, the performances are much more tolerable than they are in The Reckoning.
If you haven’t seen any of Blomkamp’s work outside of District 9, Elysium, and Chappie, then do yourself a favor and watch the Oats Studios shorts that he did. The shorts were created as a way to potentially sell concepts to movie studios, but they unfortunately never went anywhere. The demon in Demonic is classic Blomkamp and is along the lines of the monsters found within Rakka and Zygote. The unfortunate aspect is this demon is barely seen, as he only has about two minutes of screen time total. The demon spends far too much time possessing people than he does actually being seen on screen.
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The storyline for Demonic is too wobbly for its own good. Carly has clearly moved on from her mother and her childhood friends, but is pulled back into communicating with all of them again solely for storyline purposes. Carly constantly acts against logic, which is massively frustrating. She gets dumber, more emotional, temperamental, and irrational the more the film progresses. As she starts to witness the demon within her mother’s conscience, Carly begins to believe that her friend, Martin (Chris William Martin), may have been on to something when they were younger.
Martin has been researching this demon for over a decade, but when he tried to talk to Carly about it she tried to have him committed. In the present, when she asks him about it again, she again acts like he’s in the wrong when he starts explaining the origins of the demon, even when she blatantly asked him about it and wanted to be shown what he’d learned over the years.
The doctors at Therapol initially call Carly in to utilize a new form of technology that will allow Carly to enter a simulation where she’s communicating with her mother within Angela’s head. The simulation itself looks like a dated computer or Playstation game that never quite loaded properly. This demon seems tied to Angela for the majority of the film, but is then jumping from host to host during the finale. The ideal climax would have been whatever human survivors battling this part-bird, part-Sasquatch demon with Freddy Krueger-like dream powers, but instead, you get something much more brief and far less satisfying.
Low-budget films like Demonic and The Reckoning were made during the pandemic to keep people working during an unprecedented time. Entertainment, especially the TV and movie industries, should be far more valued during a time when self-quarantining and working from home have become the norm. However, as a result of this, we should be far more harsh on bad movies. Demonic has enough of a budget and a small but talented cast to make a worthwhile film. The technology at Therapol used to create simulations within the cerebral cortex is a concept lifted directly out of Elysium or Chappie. And Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi and horror-obsessed fingertips are all over that memorably awesome, but barely-seen demon.
A Disappointing Effort by a Talented Filmmaker
Unfortunately, Demonic snowballs into lame genre tropes and on-screen characters portraying stupid IQs for the sake of a half-hearted scare or tiresome story beat. The Exorcist-like crawling around backward in front of a strobe light just doesn’t have the effect that it should.
As a massive Neill Blomkamp fan, Demonic is a disheartening outing for the South African filmmaker. Since Blomkamp wrote and directed this thing without studio interference, it’s no wonder his passion projects never came to fruition.
© 2021 Chris Sawin