By: Kayla Caldwell
DEMONIC is VR meets Inception. It builds in intensity, and at times, is scary as hell. We jump right into the terrifying, as we see Carly (Carly Pope) confronting her mother in what looks to be an abandoned hospital? Her mother says, “Can’t you see what you’re standing in?” And then sets the room ablaze. Thankfully, it was only a nightmare, but it’s also pretty foreboding of what’s to come.
Carly appears to be going through it a bit, and things aren’t made any better when Martin (Chris William Martin), a friend she hasn’t spoke to in over eight years, reaches out with some bizarre news. He apparently showed up for some kind of experiment at a research clinic, only to find out Carly’s mother was a patient. Oh, and now they’re looking for Carly.
She decides to take things into her own hands, and instead of waiting for the enigmatic scientists to reach out to her, she goes to them. Michael (Michael J Rogers) takes Carly on a little tour, telling her they use, “cutting-edge technology to try to alleviate suffering in our patients.” That’s kind of vague, and that pattern of talking continues as he says their technology is “so new, it doesn’t even exist outside of this building.”
She finds her mom, in a coma, and hooked to so many wires and devices, it would be alarming… that is, if she had any empathy left in her heart for her mother. It seems she does not. Carly’s mom, Angela (Nathalie Boltt), has a dark past that is slowly revealed throughout the film. For now, all we know is that prisoners - because, yes, she was in jail - reported she was becoming more and more violent over the years, before she turned inward with self-harm, and finally ended up in a coma at this facility, for her own protection (and that of others).
So why summon Carly? Well, the scientists at the facility claim they just want to know the “why” behind Angela’s criminal past. In order to suss that out, since she is in a coma, they have to use special software like VR, that puts Carly into her mother’s twisted mind. Once inside, the POV switches back and forth between what’s occurring in the real world, and what’s happening in the simulation, which kind of looks like a video game. You may recall from earlier coverage of this film, that it uses a special new method of volumetric capture (a three-dimensional video technology that turns actors into geometric objects). In fact, it’s the most volumetric capture ever seen in a feature film.
Cary’s nightmares continue, and they seem to be getting progressively scarier. Despite this, she returns to the facility to be put back into the simulation. Thing is, Carly's mom is not the only one in this simulation. She sees a monster that looks part skeleton, part mythical creature, with a creepy, plague doctor mask. The creature seems imbued with some of the same powers as Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) from American Horror Story: Coven, as when it reaches down and draws a scratch mark up his arm, it suddenly appears on Carly. When she leaves the simulation, the cut is still there, and real as day - but no one can tell her how that happened.
Props to Martin for being a serious ride or die, in addition to a conspiracy theorist. He had to suffer his friends cutting him off and calling him “clinically insane,” the first time he told them about his nightmares. He started getting them - and sleepwalking into the woods, yikes! - after the pair of them found Carly’s mom looking catatonic inside of an old sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. That happened just a few weeks before the violent offenses that landed Angela in prison. Now, Carly comes to Martin, begging him to show her all of his old notes… but then is kind of a dick about it again.
This is where things take a turn for the crazy. I’ll try not to spoil, except to say that this is not your average possession movie. Expect some tropes, like a 1000-year-old dagger from “the holy lands,” as well as some fairly new concepts. (Think yoked-up priests with just so many tattoos.)
The climax of the film is a bit hard to swallow, albeit fun to watch nonetheless. There are plenty of spooky jump scares. I’m always tripped out when you see a human moving in ways a human never should. All in all, DEMONIC has not managed to sway my less-than-stellar view of possession films. But it did manage to make me jump and gasp a few times, and I was watching it during the day - so that should say something.
If exorcisms are your jam, then DEMONIC is right up your alley. I’d also guess video game enthusiasts will enjoy it, seeing as, at times, it feels like you’re watching a Twitch stream. I think director Neill Blomkamp did a good job jumping between the two types of media. The film keeps your interest throughout, even if the final reveal is not as satisfying as you may have thought.
DEMONIC is a fun ride, and though it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, as far as possession films, it’s still a fun twist on a classic. DEMONIC is available in theaters, on demand, and digital, starting today, August 20!