Once upon a time, Neill Blomkamp was the next big thing in blockbuster filmmaking. His breakthrough movie, District 9, was an Academy Award nominee in Best Picture (scoring Blomkamp a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the Oscars), and a genuine phenomenon. That led to immense interest in his follow-up, which turned out to be Elysium. That was a divisive film, one I actually liked a fair bit, but it all came crashing down with the deeply misguided Chappie. Since then, he’s struggled to find his footing, with an attempted Alien 5 never coming together (much like his earlier attempt to make a Halo flick). By now, it’s been a matter of if Blomkamp had a comeback in him. By going small with the horror outing Demonic, he was certainly set up for success. Well, that’s the last time I’m going to be using that word in this review, as Demonic is one of 2021’s worst. Alas, this is another nail in the coffin for the filmmaker.
Demonic is a scare-less horror movie, and that’s only one of its issues. It’s boring, self-serious, and never develops the only idea that has potential. It’s shocking that it got made, but even more shocking that someone like Blomkamp would be behind it. It’s just more evidence that his days as an A-list storyteller are long gone, and likely never coming back, either.
Carly (Carly Pope) has some issues. Many of them stem from a horrific crime committed by her mother years ago. So, when asked to take part in a virtual reality program, where she’d be entering into the virtual mindscape of her comatose mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt), Carly initially does it just to tell her off. However, her hopes of it being a one and done are put to rest by the shadowy figures who have recruited her. So, she investigates further, trying to figure out what made Angela go off the deep end. She’s going to wish she hadn’t, as you might imagine.
Outside of the simulation, Carly begins to see horrific visions, mainly of giant bird creatures. Somehow, things that haunt her mother and take rein in the virtual world are now coming after her. Thus begins a preposterous nightmare that involves Vatican agents, virtual reality, and childhood trauma. It all could be interesting, but none of it is handled well, in the slightest.
I don’t blame the cast for their forgettable work in Demonic. They’re given so little to work with, any other result would have been surprising. Carly Pope is fine, but everything is so surface level with her, you can never really latch on to the character. The same goes for Nathalie Boltt and Chris William Martin, while other supporting players here include Terry Chen, Michael J. Rogers, plus more. No one leaves a mark.
Neill Blomkamp was once a vibrant and exciting filmmaker, with a point of view that was easy to distinguish. That’s all gone here in this bland and deeply anonymous work. Not only that, it comes off as pretentious too, as if he couldn’t lean into its B-movie trappings. The sin of treating your dreck like something prestigious is yet another misfiring aspect here. Demonic should be a nasty bit of business, but one that’s fun, showcasing a writer/director enjoying the genre. There’s none of that here. It’s just low-budget trash, passing itself off as something more.
Demonic is just a bad film. Without scares, strong acting, or coherent plotting, very little comes together. The initial concept is interesting, but the execution leaves so much to be desired. At this point, it’s impossible to expect much again from Neill Blomkamp. Until proven otherwise, he’s officially a one-hit wonder.