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'Demonic' Review: Neill Blomkamp's missed opportunity

'Demonic' - Neill Blomkamp

The video game movie has been a concept that has long evaded Hollywood. Its nature is simply too intrinsically linked to its creative medium that to strip it from its video game context is to take away all meaning entirely. Where many have tried, and few have succeeded in successfully transitioning across, it seems as though director Neill Blomkamp attempted to solve the enigma, creating a video game movie with the source material itself. 

In truth, if it wasn’t for the fact that Neill Blomkamp was directing this film, Demonic would likely have been tossed among the fodder of horror content that is seemingly released on a daily basis. Once a cinematic hot property, following the critical and commercial success of independent feature film District 9 and the lesser-impactful Elysium, Blomkamp would take a step back from the film industry after 2015’s Chappie, despite accelerating rumours that he was next in line to direct an Alien movie.

Taking the time out to find his cinematic voice with multiple technologically experimental short films, it’s a shame that Demonic doesn’t quite live up to the director’s own grand vision, as his ambitions are clearly lofty. As if a self-contained episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror, the film features a futuristic new technology that creates a virtual reality world for the minds of the unconscious, whilst linking to a second device that allows others to enter this reality. This proves too tempting for Carly (Carly Pope) to try, using the device at a secret facility to access the subconscious of her estranged mother, once convicted of mass homicide. 

Upon entering this virtual reality, Neill Blomkamp reminds the industry just why he was so revered upon the release of District 9 in 2009, creating an innovative digital space that well represents the instability of a fragile mind. Navigating the strange subconscious dreamworld in the first person, video game fans will recall the horror indie game Slender, whilst a top-down view of the character feels like your guiding Carly through the domesticated world of The Sims.

Such scenes are expertly crafted and allude to a deeper truth about Demonic and Blomkamp’s intentions, creating, albeit for the film’s opening forty minutes, a riveting horror that blends the realities of the video game world and physical reality. Talk about adapting the feeling of a video game to the cinematic medium, Neill Blomkamp came to the precipice of achieving such a feat. 

Though, as if David Cronenberg had given in his subversive attitude for the sweet smell of popcorn and the allure of the Hollywood lights, Demonic descends into generic horror witlessness. The basic premise of the film itself is abandoned at the film’s introduction as Blomkamp bewilderingly embraces an entirely more bombastic plot involving a gang of priests, assault rifles and exorcism. 

It’s the unforgivably absurd, ham-fisted limp script that, whilst acceptable in the early half of the film, highlights the film’s poorest qualities as it nears the conclusion. There is certainly promise in the basic story of Demonic, it’s hard to believe that its script work comes from the same inspiring mind as the writer of District 9, with plot points hastily scribbled on as if the afterthought on a shopping list.

Neill Blomkamp is an ambitious mind, but the quality of his final films simply do not match the scope of his imagination. In the mountain of nonsense that is Demonic, there is the seed of a great film. Maybe he should stick to short films after all.