Demonic is a 2021 sci-fi horror film written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, known for his critically acclaimed film District 9. Shot in the middle of the pandemic, Demonic follows Carly, a young woman who unleashes an evil demon after uncovering a decades-long rift with her mother. The film was released on August 20, 2021.
So, let’s see what this film has in store for us.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
‘Demonic’ Plot Summary
Demonic opens with Carly in an open field calling out to her mom. She enters her childhood home and finds her mother, who is clearly possessed by a demon. Her mother reveals there’s gas on the floor and sets the house on fire. Surprise, surprise, this is a nightmare! Carly then gets contacted by Martin, who reveals that her mother is in a medical study by a company called Therapol. They want to meet with her. After some hesitation, she visits Therapol and almost immediately agrees to enter a simulation world of her mother’s mind. There, she encounters her mother, who reveals she never called her – it’s actually the demon who’s been reaching out to Carly. Carly even sees the demon, which leaves a wound on her hand in the real world.
Carly visits Martin, who reveals to her a lot of information that seems unnecessarily convoluted, but let me make an attempt – the sanatorium where Carly’s mother worked was built on haunted grounds, the Vatican has a black-ops unit that hunts and exorcises demons, Therapol might be one of the said black ops, and he too has had visions of the demon that attacked Carly. Obviously, Carly drives away without letting him explain everything because you need to stretch the film longer.
Later, she’s visited by her friend Sam in the middle of the night, who shows her a ‘trick.’ She puts on a raven mask and transforms into the demon, proceeding to chase her. Carly manages to lock herself in her room, but the demon breaks through the door. Surprise, surprise, another dream!. Carly is obviously terrified, and that’s when it’s revealed that Therapol is actually spying on her. Their black ops identity is fully established with a red leather-bound bible, mentions of demons, and a priest who’s putting on his black ops gear while a big branded cross on his back is displayed in all its glory.
Carly goes over to Sam’s place only to find it abandoned. With Martin’s help, she locates Sam’s car left in the middle of the woods, and they go out in search of her. They find Sam – without any struggle, mind you – blabbering about Carly’s mom. Carly then decides to return to her childhood home (the one we saw at the beginning of the film and in the simulations) to save her mom because she definitely didn’t spend decades hating her. Will they manage to save the day?
Two Dimensional Characters
There are three main characters to focus on:
- Carly’s mom Angela
- The Demon
Carly had a falling out with her mother decades ago for an incident involving Angela setting fire to an old age home. Angela is put in a sanitorium and later made part of a medical study, including a sci-fi machine that allows Carly to visit a simulated world of her mother’s mind. However, that mind is plagued by a demon, which leaves real scars on Carly’s arm. This angle of the story is exceptionally poignant. This was an opportunity for the filmmaker to highlight mental health issues, inherited trauma, intergenerational conflicts, and so much more. Sadly, it’s reduced to ‘possessed by an evil demon.
Given that this film was made during the pandemic (mid-2020), the filmmaker had a golden opportunity to have the demon be a metaphor for the coronavirus. The medical research team and the protagonists could’ve served as the healthcare system fighting the virus. Sadly, the medical research team is revealed to be a secret Vatican black ops team specializing in exorcising evil demons, completely degrading the setting into another cliched exorcist rip-off.
A good protagonist/antagonist is one whose motivations are clear. Sadly, Carly’s backstory and character are very two-dimensional. She exists in the film only to serve the plot (which is highly convoluted). Many of her decisions don’t even make sense, which only adds to the frustration of watching this movie; she does what the plot needs her to do and nothing more. The demon exists because it is evil, and it likes to burn people, nothing else. The black-ops team exists because they kill demons. There is little to no personal conflict here, except maybe Carly and Angela. Still, even that looks pretty forced, superficial, and grossly underexplored.
Lastly, the ending is illogical as hell (no pun intended). The demon doesn’t die when Carly stabs the possessed priest but dies when she stabs herself after being possessed. A lot of the deaths and twists don’t make logical sense. And this whole thing could’ve been passed off as a stylistic endeavor. Still, it fails at being stylistic enough since the film is trying too hard to portray itself as a profound and severe film like Inception, The Exorcist, and many more. Demonic takes the time to set up its plot, nor does it develop that plot at all.
A Convoluted Failure
I’ll begin by pointing out that the first 20 odd minutes of the film seem utterly unnecessary. They’re meant to set up a lot of what’s to come, but they, unfortunately, take away all the suspense and intrigue from the film. What the beginning does establish is that this is going to be your cliched horror possession story. But then it decides it’s going the inception route and adds a layer of sci-fi simulation, almost immediately stripped away to reveal another cliche trope of exorcists under the guise of black ops. So basically, this film is a cliched possession horror with a sci-fi packaging that fails to do justice to either.
It’s clear from the beginning that the film is inspired by several other influential films, namely Inception, The Exorcist, Annihilation (which in turn was inspired by Tarkovsky’s Stalker), Under the Skin, and many more. Sadly enough, it fails at capturing the essence of any of its inspirations. And in trying to take inspiration from so many sources, it fails at developing a strong identity of its own.
The medical research angle was intriguing and would have served as an excellent commentary on the medical world, healthcare, people’s perception of vaccination, etc. However, all this falls flat with the introduction of the Vatican’s Black Ops team, which degrades this concept into a basic cliché even before we could’ve accepted the world. Overall, the setups are fragile, and the black ops are introduced too late in the film to take them seriously. Add to that lazy jump scares and dream sequence twists, and you’ll have trouble enjoying this film.
I will admire the cinematography and visuals here. The simulation world especially has a unique visual style and atmosphere that was very much underexplored. Another aspect of the film that I’d like to point out is its attempt to create a gaming atmosphere. The simulation world and the final act reminded me of games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Devour, and more. But these, too, remain superficial stylistic choices. There’s just too much happening here for any aspect to be thoroughly fleshed out.
The unnecessarily convoluted plot is its biggest bane. What people seem to not understand about Nolan is that his plots are straightforward. It’s the narrative structure that makes his films intriguing. The experience of untangling knots is what makes Nolan movies engaging. As for the other inspirations like The Exorcist and Annihilation, those films had great settings and atmospheres, which were explored at a pace that made the experience terrifying. The beauty of games is their engagement which combines learning as you progress, but Demonic, just info-dumps everything. The 3 main inspirations have distinct virtues, and Demonic fails at developing either one of them.
When I first watched District 9, I was amazed to see the brilliance of Blomkamp’s creativity. Sadly, none of his later films have matched up to that beautiful film. Demonic is just a convoluted film that isn’t sure what it’s trying to be while failing to be what it is inspired by.
I know this film was shot in the pandemic, but that isn’t an excuse for poor writing or lousy filmmaking. This is one of those films which is objectively very wrong.
Demonic is a 2021 Horror Film written, co-produced, and directed by Neill Blomkamp.