Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In short: Demonic (2015)

A handful of young ghost hunters break into a dilapidated old house where a séance once resulted in a bit of demonic possession (I’d say spoiler, but then, this thing is called Demonic) and axe murdering with only one survivor. And hey, one of our young ghost hunters (Dustin Milligan) is the only son of said survivor, so I can’t see what possibly could go wrong here.

The whole she-bang is told in flashbacks that are part of an interview police psychologist Dr Elizabeth Klein (Maria Bello) leads with what might be the lone survivor of the ghost hunters right at the scene of the crime. Why there? Because taking him somewhere else would break the plot. Anyway, terrible secrets, the same old jump scares you have in every James Wan production, and a mildly stupid plot twist follow.

By now, James Wan productions are mostly their own little genre of mainstream horror films, I think. They’re distinguished by generally moody photography, clever lighting, usually decent or better acting, and a complete unwillingness to go outside a very small comfort zone of what a horror movie is supposed to be and to do. So, expect Wan production Demonic (actually directed by one Will Canon) to be slick, expect it to be professional, but also expect it to never do anything unexpected, to never really explore psychological or metaphorical depths or to feature very interesting characters. However, you can expect that jump scare based on a face seen only via camera popping out, that scene with an invisible force dragging a person around, and some lame poppycock about demons that never actually attempts to properly build a mythology around them or make them characters, because this would actually involve using some creative energy instead of genre short hand of the more boring kind.

I wouldn’t exactly call this approach lazy (I’m actually pretty sure the people involved here are putting effort in), but it certainly does result in films that are all pretty much the same, and even though they are certainly slick and professional, they’re not quite slick enough to make me forget how much they lack in creative spirit. I’m nearly tempted to use the word “soulless” here.

Canon’s film does at least mildly mix things up structurally, and in the film’s first hour or so, I found myself quite enjoying the mystery-style approach to the plot, particularly with Maria Bello giving a fine outing as what seems the only competent character in the film. The longer the film went, the clearer it became it wouldn’t use its structure for anything beyond setting up the mandatory boring plot twist. In the final tally, little actually distinguishes this one from half a dozen other Wan-horror films.

This doesn’t mean Demonic is awful. Like nearly all of these films, it’s mildly diverting (or, if you have seen fewer of these films and haven’t seen all of their tricks a dozen times or so, perhaps even mildly exciting), and a perfect film to watch when your brain isn’t up to anything with ambitions beyond being the most generic horror film possible.

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