Few people have the visual sensibilities of Neill Blomkamp.
The director of District 9 and Elysium, Blomkamp has always managed to develop unique environments and characters that have allowed him to carve out his own place in the world of science fiction. With the release of his first foray into the world of horror, Demonic, he creates a hybrid of genres that is a treat for the eyes.
Demonic tells the story of Carly (Carly Pope), a young woman who holds a deep hatred for her murderous mother, Angela (Nathalie Bolt). When she discovers that her estranged mom is in a coma, Carly is approached by Therapol, a mysterious corporation connected to the Vatican that deals with demonic possession. Therapol invites Carly to participate in an experiment that would allow her to enter into her mother’s psyche and find out what’s going on within her. Despite her apprehension, Carly reluctantly agrees and digitally dives into her mother’s mind. However, in doing so, she also unleashes an ancient evil that threatens to destroy her life and relationships.
While Blomkamp is best known for his otherworldly looks at current events, Demonic offers him a chance to have more fun with his content. Without the deeply layered complexities of health care or apartheid, the film’s feels more like a ride into the world of the paranormal than it does a social inquiry. It should be noted that this is not a criticism. While there will be some who expect something different, this unique vision is a blast and an absolute joy to watch. (What other film have you seen where the Catholic church was so technologically advanced?)
Technology has always been essential to Blomkamp’s work and that’s certainly on display here. Featuring some truly stunning animation using volumetric capture, the digital realm is both familiar yet off-putting. This new visual style is surprisingly unique and creates a distinct environment for the horror genre. We are meant to feel like we are in another world but never comfortable. With each glitch and pop with its intentional flaws, the world never feels fully stable, adding to its unsettling atmosphere.
What’s more, Blomkamp has built his career on the relationship between technology and the human body. However, Demonic is his first foray in the connection between the digital world and the human soul. Using the digital realm as his canvas, Blomkamp creates a thoroughly unique exploration of what lies beneath our physical forms and how they interact. For example, because of her mother’s past actions, Carly has done everything she could to forget her. Driven by her hatred for her mother, Carly is adamant that she wants nothing to do with Therapol or these experiments. However, after reluctantly agreeing to delve more deeply into her mother’s mind, she also begins to rediscover a woman that she’d long forgotten.
This differentiation between surface and spiritual is key to understanding and appreciating Blomkamp’s work here. With all the key people in her life, Carly’s primary relationships seem to be driven by illusion (or delusion). Without giving away any spoilers, there are multiple moments within the film where Carly’s feelings about a person taint her judgment of them. Who she believes them to be is not always who they are and only when she looks beyond their façade does she truly see the truth about them. As Carly discovers, the soul matters and offers proper perspective on their lives and value. (Actually, in some ways, Demonic even feels like a distant cousin to District 9 in that both films discuss the importance of putting biases aside and looking below the surface.)
With a unique style and voice, Blomkamp again creates something visually stunning that’s worth enjoying. What’s more, despite having leaning more on fun than some of his previous efforts, Blomkamp’s work is always worth seeing what’s really going on underneath the surface.
To hear our conversation with Neill Blomkamp, click here.
Demonic is available in theatres Friday, August 20th, 2021.