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Demonic (Review)

"There are some good ideas buried deep in Demonic's script."

by C. Rachel Katz

Demonic has a great premise: it's set in the aftermath of a found footage ghost hunting movie. Demonic also has a great problem: it's set in the aftermath of a found footage ghost hunting movie. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea. But the execution doesn't...

Detective Mark Lewis is called out to the old X house where, twenty-five years ago a seance turned into a massacre. Now, more recent killings have taken place inside the house and Mark's only lead is the shell-shocked survivor and some corrupted video footage. As the police struggle to restore the video, a psychologist questions John about what happened earlier that night. John talks ghost hunting, seances, and battling his personal demons, all with an aim at helping the cops track down his girlfriend and her ex, the only ghost hunters who haven't been accounted for.

Much like John, Demonic wrestles with its own demons throughout its runtime, the foremost being an inability to leverage its two narratives. In the present are John and the cops. John tells his story while the police investigate the house and work on data recovery. In the past are John and the other ghost hunters who're conducting their own, different kind of investigation. The two plots intertwine, to give the audience the full story of what went down, but to little ironic effect. We don't learn anything new or important before the cops—there's no suspense.

Demonic
Directed by Will Canon
Cast Maria Bello, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn
Release Date TBA
Rachel's Grade: C+

This kind of narrative setup would lend itself well to teasing out the story through timely payoffs: As John spins his tale, we move back and forth between the house and the videotape, evaluating his version of events with the recovered footage. Sadly, that's not the case. Instead we just cut back and forth between what happened then and what's happening now. If we think John might be an unreliable narrator, it's because we know we're watching a horror movie, and not due to any clever scripting or plot twists.

There are some good ideas buried deep in Demonic's script. The house's backstory is cool, and the ghost hunt is well planned, but the movie too easily gives in to tired tropes and cliche. For instance, John's competition, Brian the ex-boyfriend, is a wholly unlikable, stereotypical jerk. And not once do the ghost hunters review their footage—a course of action that could have saved lives. Moreover, they keep dropping their cameras every time a ghost appears on screen. Great for jump scares, bad for pandering. Mark's refusal to believe in the occult hampers his investigation, leaving everyone vulnerable, and the big reveal at the end is cobbled together from a dozen other Satanic panic movies. Worst of all is a third-act revelation that simply cannot exist. It's there to help move the story forward, obviously, but it's shoehorned into the movie in such a way that logically, what we see can't actually have happened.

Movies that deal in magic have to be very clear about their rules. Even if they're never stated outright, the idea that clean-cut rules exist must be communicated to the audience. Demonic's magic has rules, but they're too fluid for us to get a handle on. Never mind that Jules, one of the ghost hunters is an occult specialist. But she only exists to bring the evil, not to help explain, contain, or expel it.

If Demonic had truly committed to the aftermath and investigation, instead of relying on flashback to tell its story, it could have been an interesting new spin on an old idea. Unfortunately, the movie takes the easy way out—or lazy in some cases—and ranks as yet another horror movie trying to trade on the appeal of found footage without fully understanding or appreciating what found footage has to offer.

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