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New Release Review (VOD) - DEMONS

demons film review
A former priest and his wife are haunted by the ghost of the latter's dead sister.







Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Miles Doleac

Starring: John Schneider, Gary Grubbs, Andrew Divoff, Miles Doleac, Lindsay Anne Williams, Kristina Emerson

demons poster

Time to dust off your Bibles everyone (and flip to James 4:7, theology geeks) as, following its unholy heyday in the 1970s, it looks as if the religious horror film is back! From the disingenuously titled Last Exorcism films, to the unfortunately similar possessions of Emily Rose and Molly Hartley, and the hauntings in both Connecticut and Salem, Satan and his minions have the silver screen in thrall; even the imperial James Wan canon usually features a cameo from some priest or another, ineffective against the cattle prod scares and regrettably designed dolls.

As most viscerally explored in The Exorcist (which has been recently rebooted on the telly - is there no limit to Lucifer’s influence?!), the defining dynamic of the possession film is the corruption and desecration of a, usually young, female body, wherein a perceived purity is twisted into outward revulsion and inward corruption, only to be eventually liberated by the determination of an older man with a steely resolve, jangling rosary and leather-bound book. A timeless refrain that plays back to Eve, this grimly concentrated rendition of the Madonna/Whore trope is at the heart of most religious horror.

demons

The archaic gender psychology at work in these films has an enduring fascination, and is duly replicated once again in the opening scenes of Miles Doleac’s (writer/producer/star/sang-the-theme-tune) Demons, which depicts the aftermath of a botched exorcism. Hapless priest Colin (Doleac) has somehow gone and naused up the casting out of a demon from an adolescent woman (Jewel: blonde hair, flowing and torn nightie; check), and he is in one heck of a state. Like a regretful accountant, Colin bemoans to the girl’s comely older sister Kayleigh (Lindsay Anne Williams) that he ‘miscalculated’. She must have forgiven him though, as, cut to 14 months later and Colin has chucked in the cloth, become a best-selling author and is only having a soft-core shag with the self- same Kayleigh; but then one of them turns into a demon, yikes!

Cut to eight years later and now Colin and Kayleigh are meeting up with a bunch of pals in a palatial house, complete with a full-length pool and a naked swimmer, to celebrate the impending nuptials of buddy Billy (Steven Brand) a Hollywood ‘big shot’. Problem is, just like on her honeymoon, Kayleigh keeps on seeing the ghost of her sister everywhere and it really puts a damper on the weekend. It’s going to take an unwieldy flashback structure and some Ouija jiggery pokery to explain Kayleigh’s demons and to finally put the spirit of her poor sister to rest.

The viewing experience of a religious horror in some way depends on the individual’s investment in its extant themes: how far or not a personal faith is courted or, indeed, exploited (I wonder how far these films succeed in territories where the Judeo-Christian model has no sway; anyone seen the Bollywood remake of The Exorcist: Hawa?). In the spirit of the religious horror’s inherent subjectivity, my favourite character (or at least the one I most identified with) in Demons is Lara (Kristina Emerson), the free spirited naked swimmer, who believes in all that new-age nonsense and has (yes girlfriend, yes!) dyed her hair with purple streaks in honour of Prince’s death: a woman after my own heart, indeed.

demons

It is interesting that Doleac specifies Prince as the film’s only pop cultural reference (and compounds it by having Lara wear the same large circular lensed specs that the tiny genius himself dons in Purple Rain; surely this is deliberate intertextuality). In the first instance, in real life as in the film, the very existence of Prince and his divine canon is enough to give even the staunchest of atheists pause for reconsideration, but more pertinent is the Purple One’s obsessive dedication to the same Manichean themes of the exorcism film: that of the call of the flesh versus the liberation of spirituality.

This persistent thesis is exemplified in Demons by the contrasting flashbacks, which pitch the earthy grub of Kayleigh’s former home, a deep woods Southern shack with abusive parents and suggestive candlelight, with the clean opulence of Billy’s pad. Andrew Divoff plays Kayleigh and Jewel’s dad, gruffly intoning things like ‘people say that God is a fiction’ through a mouthful of scenery. Divoff, with his stone worn face and gravel throat, is like something that has fallen out of one of the early books of the Old Testament as it is, and his checked shirts and folksy demeanour are thrown into sharp relief by the breezy bacchanalia of the engagement party. In a moment of eyebrow raising gratuity two of the women start to (unconvincingly) writhe up against each other (because every woman becomes bisexual after the third glass, innit lads yeah lads?), and everybody gets loaded.

Is Demons, with its references to the false idols of the film industry, its depiction of empty luxury and fleshly temptations, making a larger point about capitalist hegemony and the subsequent divorce of ourselves from a true spiritual nature? After all, in a Mammonistic pursuit Colin has given up priesthood and channelled his background into a bestselling writing career, literally turning spiritual experience into cash money… Perhaps the reason for the resurgence of the religious horror subgenre is that more and more in the real-world religion is becoming closely aligned with horror: every nutcase with a death wish and hatred to spare cites mutant theology in an attempt to justify their murdering and sickness, and who can blame the rest of us for turning to the panacea of faith in these increasingly uncertain, terrifying times?

demons

Then again, there is a sequence in Demons where Colin, at the end of his tether, pompously breaks down to Kayleigh about the death of his father and it is amazing, an inadvertent homage to Phoebe Cates’ scene-stealer in Gremlins, except I think in Demons it’s actually supposed to be serious: ‘His heart exploded one night…they call it the widowmaker…it was either that or his liver’. It amused me so much I watched the scene four times straight! And characters also hold up Colin’s book and say things like ‘this some dark ass shit’ and also remark that it is ‘not a party unless some lesbian shit go down’, so in all honesty the film is impossible to watch with any sense of sincerity.

Likewise, even though Demons is shot very elegantly (nothing showy, just well-placed framing and purposeful storytelling), the flashback narrative slightly bloats the film, which should have been a good 20 minutes shorter. That said, the scenes which are supposed to be scary really are quite unnerving, with the unpleasant vision of Jewel doing that pleady/threatening voice characteristic of all lost souls with a particular aplomb here - very spooky. Demons probably isn’t going to have you reaching for that Bible, but there’s enough here to possess you for at least a couple of hours.

Demons is on VOD now.



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