Demonic review – Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi horror is pure pulp

The director’s latest film – in which a daughter enters the virtual mind of her serial killer mother – is so-so compared to his earlier efforts

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 disc space and career prospects. Operating with TV-movie production values and nary a single familiar face among its 10-strong cast, it’s a small, manageable, patchily inspired genre piece that unpicks the fraught relationship between a daughter, her convict mother, and a medical tech firm instigating an altogether unhappy reunion.

Much of Demonic suggests a sometime “visionary director” who has turned to streaming-bound work-for-hire to make ends meet; it’s cautiously compiled, competent work-for-hire, but the wild swings and grand designs of this film-maker’s earlier output are sorely missed. It’s at its most Blomkampian early on, with the integration of effects into the plot: our heroine Carly (Carly Pope) submits to “volumetric capture” (essentially mo-cap 2.0) so she can enter a virtual-world 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 sync, and inevitably, the simulation doesn’t run as smoothly as hoped. Partly this is 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 the uncanny-valley glitches that have blighted countless blockbusters. This time, the glitches are deliberate: the aim is to unsettle.

After that initial blast, 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” that the final act returns us to is very ordinary indeed, heading towards an abandoned research facility where the striplights are on the fritz. Pope has the right look for this kind of pulp, a phone-app mashup 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 that one of Blomkamp’s studio endeavours might have developed into a set-piece. The connective circuitry is too identikit for Demonic to be especially distinctive.

• Demonic is released on 27 August in cinemas and on digital platforms.


Mike McCahill

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Will we ever get to see Neill Blomkamp’s mooted District 9 sequel based on ‘American history’?
Blomkamp’s dystopian satire left so many questions unanswered that it simply demands a follow-up – and recent US politics could be the perfect inspiration

Ben Child

23, Jul, 2021 @1:17 PM

Article image
Rupture review – silly, nasty torture-porn horror
Director Steven Shainberg fails to replicate the success of Secretary with an unconvincing thriller about a single mom kidnapped by an extreme-terror cult

Peter Bradshaw

03, Nov, 2016 @10:30 PM

Article image
The Love Witch review – glorious retro fantasy-horror
Drenched in the Technicolor 60s, Anna Biller’s outrageous, showstopping B-movie oozes with A-grade potency

Peter Bradshaw

09, Mar, 2017 @11:00 PM

Article image
School's Out Forever review – gloriously gory adaptation of YA sci-fi horror
Lord of the Flies meets The Road in this ruthless, thrilling romp about posh boarding school kids fighting a deadly virus

Leslie Felperin

10, Feb, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
I'll ignore Alien 3 and take the franchise back to familiar territory, says Neill Blomkamp
District 9 film-maker reveals plans to ignore unpopular sequels Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection in order to take the franchise back to ‘a Freudian kind of nightmare’

Ben Child

26, Feb, 2015 @9:04 AM

Article image
Life review – Jake Gyllenhaal hits the retro rockets for sub-Alien space horror
Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds play members of a scientific team investigating material from Mars that turns out to contain a hostile life-form

Peter Bradshaw

22, Mar, 2017 @12:01 AM

Article image
The Wailing review – Korean horror flick takes fear to the brink of an abyss
Korean director Na Hong-jin delivers a supreme evocation of evil in this intense rural-horror

Phil Hoad

24, Nov, 2016 @9:45 PM

Article image
A Quiet Place Part II review – Emily Blunt horror is something to scream about
A hearing-impaired child leads the revolt against lethal aliens with super-sensitive ears in this follow-up to the smash-hit horror

Peter Bradshaw

18, May, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Ridley Scott: Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 is never going to happen
The Alien: Covenant director has confirmed that Blomkamp’s much-hyped sequel will not go ahead, saying ‘there was never a script’

Andrew Pulver

02, May, 2017 @10:34 AM

Article image
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City review – unpretentiously gory horror-game reboot
The long-running franchise is back with a reasonably entertaining 90s-set story of the emergence of a zombie virus

Leslie Felperin

02, Dec, 2021 @11:00 AM