Friday 27 August 2021

"Demonic" (Guardian 27/08/21)

Demonic **

Dir: Neill Blomkamp. With: Carly Pope, Nathalie Boltt, Michael J. Rogers, Terry Chen. 104 mins. Cert: 18

After the mega-budget blowouts of 2013’s Elysium (which had some tried-and-tested ideas rattling around inside it) and 2015’s Chappie (which had Die Antwoord), this so-so shocker finds mooted multiplex saviour Neill Blomkamp recalibrating his disk space and career prospects. Operating with TV-movie production values and nary a single familiar face among its ten-strong cast, it’s a small, manageable, patchily inspired genre piece that unpicks the fraught relationship between a daughter, her convict mom, and a medical tech firm instigating an altogether unhappy reunion. Much of it suggests a sometime “visionary director” turning to VoD-bound work-for-hire to make ends meet; while it’s cautiously compiled, competent work-for-hire, the wild swings and grand designs of this filmmaker’s earlier output are badly missed.

It’s at its most Blomkampian early on, with the integration of effects into plot: our heroine Carly (Carly Pope) submits to “volumetric capture” (essentially mo-cap 2.0) so as to enter the simulation that will allow her to interact with her comatose mum. Inevitably, this passage into a digital wonderland is preceded with dire warnings as to what might happen if memories slip out of synch; inevitably, the simulation doesn’t run as smoothly as hoped, partly due to the vast reserves of anger Carly ports into this virtual realm, partly due to the proximity of a giant skeletal hellbeast. These scenes have a distinctive, hyperreal look (and presumably blew the budget), rotoscoping over all those uncanny-valley glitches that have blighted countless blockbusters. This once, the glitches are deliberate: the aim is to unsettle.

After that initial binary bath, though, the film gets less striking by the frame: Carly starts poking around inside her past, while the demonology sideline yields only yellowing situations and imagery. The “real world” the final act returns us to is very ordinary indeed, pointed towards an abandoned research facility where the striplights are on the fritz. (You want Blomkamp to fire up the modems again.) Pope has the right look for this kind of pulp, something like a phone-app mash-up of Famke Janssen and Noomi Rapace, and there’s a good, albeit throwaway sequence in an Escher-like refit of the heroine’s family home – a sketch one of Blomkamp’s studio endeavours might have developed into a setpiece. Yet the connective circuitry’s too identikit for it to be recommendable.

Demonic is available to rent from today via Prime Video.

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