The Laplace's Demon (2017) Review

By: C. Rachel Katz

Directed by Giordano Giulivi Starring: Brian May, Monica May, Kass Visokey, Romy Valentina

What if everything you did was predetermined? Every decision you made, every action you took carefully calculated and plotted ahead of time? Could you change the outcome? Or is that part of the equation? Laplace’s Demon posits no, you can’t fight fate.

It goes something like this: Say you were able to calculate how someone would act or react in a certain situation. If it were possible, then it would mean that person’s fate is predetermined, that agency is an illusion and free will doesn’t exist.

Giordano Giulivi’s Laplace’s Demon pits a group of researchers against a mysterious figure who claims to have done the math and calculated their every move. Trapped inside a hilltop mansion, the unfortunate group is forced to become part of a deadly experiment in determinism. To make matters worse, there is a replica of the mansion in the room with them, a mechanical model in which they can watch themselves and witness their movements in real time.

The titular demon is the person controlling the experiment, the one who already knows how it will end. Speaking to the group through a videotape, he torments his guinea pigs by proving, time again, that he knows exactly what they’re going to do. The researchers bravely try to outsmart their fate, but it’s a losing proposition. Inevitably, death comes for them all.

Shot in black and white before a green screen, the film blends expressionist and noir aesthetics to create a beautiful atmosphere of mystery and dread. It’s a slow burn, punctuated by periods of suspense as the lights in the mansion flicker and the test subjects are eliminated one by one. Absent are the petty squabbles and bickering that run through a lot of contemporary genre cinema. Instead, characters work together to understand the situation and the film doesn’t waste time or insult the audience by burying the lead.

Laplace's Demon draws a lot of its strength from its design where some of the action is more implied than shown. As death comes for the researchers, those who will be spared this round must watch as their colleague's avatar in the model is hunted down and swallowed up. The effect is a powerful one, compounded by the realization that everything happening both in the mansion and in the model has been preordained. The only surprise is who will be next.

Having fun with the baked-in postmodern elements of its premise, the film takes time to play with its characters. Bordering on meta, the story calls for people to interact with a pre-recorded message, and one character even encounters the script itself. Thankfully, Laplace's Demon stops short of devolving into self-parody and the film ends the only way it can, with the successful completion of the experiment.

Laplace's Demon is maybe not for everyone. Its slow burn, mathematical philosophies, and artificial look and feel will test some audience members. But for those who are willing to take a chance on a think-piece about predeterminism, then perhaps you are destined to see this movie.

Rachel’s Grade: B+


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