James Wan loses cred as “Demonic” underwhelms
With movies like The Conjuring, Saw, and Insidious attached to his name, James Wan has established himself as one of the most sought-after horror movie director-producers of the decade. His distinct style in making horror movies has become a signature of its own, leaving crowds eager for his projects throughout the year. And considering the genre is slowly dying — what with clusters like The Culling being released — it’s always assuring to know that the year will produce a James Wan movie.
That said, the last horror movie Wan produced was Annabelle, a shitfest of unmatched caliber. While Wan‘s touch on mise-én-scene, pace, and score came through, the film was still one of the worst he’s ever produced.
Another recent horror movie Wan produced that sounded better on paper than it did on a screen is Demonic. Overshadowed by the release of Fast & Furious 7 (Furious 7) a week later, Wan‘s most anticipated directorial effort of the year, Demonic tells the story of a bunch of ghost-busting enthusiasts who go to a purportedly haunted house after discovering that one of them, John (Dustin Mulligan), has been having visions of it.
The tale explains that 20 years prior to the time of the film, a group of teens went to this house to do a séance to attempt to attract spirits. The details of the event remain unclear, but the night ends with one of the teens, named Martha Livingston, murdering all but one of the others. Attracted by the events of that night, John, his girlfriend, and her friends set out to try to get to the bottom of John’s visions.
The film is more of a thriller than it is a horror movie. The story is actually paralleled with an investigation from the very beginning after John is found in the house unconscious amidst the cadavers of some if his friends. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the movie because when you usually get movies that start out as police interrogations, they just tell the stroy in retrospect, but in Demonic, the events of the past are just as interesting as the events of the future. That said, I think it would have been even more interesting to cross that with the events of the murders by Martha Livingston. The triple time stamp alluding to the same atory would be an interesting dynamic to observe.
The acting in the movie is just okay. It doesn’t suck, but there’s nothing memorable about it either. Maria Bello and Frank Grillo star as Dr. Elizabeth Klein and Detective Mark Lewis respectively, both trying to get to the bottom of things and find out what exactly it was that happened with a frazzled and shocked John, as the search for Michelle (Cody Horn), John’s girlfriend continues.
Grillo does a good enough role as a detective and a boyfriend –well, as good as a limited role like that could get. I say limited, not in terms of screen time, but in terms of range and capacity to show some real acting. There was just not that much to work with. As for Bello, she definitely had her moments, but overall, it just came out alright, with nothing to hold on to, really.
90210 actor Dustin Mulligan does a good job at playing John Mitchell. He plays to the strengths of the role and delivers the performance of the movie. He shows his acting potential, and given Wan‘s tendency to hire the same actors, we might see more collaborations between the two.
The score in the movie is great, and very reminiscent of other Wan movies. Although Demonic is directed by Will Canon, the former’s contribution is quite clear. The music is both dramatic and cynical in a sense, which is perfect for the theme of the movie, and especially for the ending.
The camerawork is interesting as well. Parts of the movie are shot in a found-footage style, while the others are not. After Paranormal Activity, the found-footage style saw a huge rise, especially with horror movies. And while in some cases — like Chronicle — it worked, in others — like this year’s Project Almanac — it was unnecessarily distracting. So, to see a mix of both here was refreshing, and didn’t hurt the movie all too much.
My main problem with the movie was the ending. There was almost no build-up leading to the final reveal. It was just done arbitrarily. Even then, it wasn’t that big of a shocker. It didn’t serve as the oh-my-god moment the filmmakers tried to make it be. More than that, the reveal itself was problematic beause it basically canceled out everything the viewer had just seen the past two hours. It’s a waste of two hours and doesn’t even portray what happens properly.
The film is also full of loopholes. Aside from the ending, you basically don’t ever find out what it was that was haunting, or why it was doing what it was doing, or what it was that happened in that house initially. The demon/ghost that appears does so once, and looks so artificial it’s sad. I think it was the same monster used in Annabelle, but I could be wrong. Point being, fake.
The development of the characters is non-existent. They aren’t relatable to begin with, and we discover almost nothing about them as we go. The script is otherwise barely passing, and offers no notable monologues or dialogue for that matter. It tries to do nothing different and offers not any substantial ground of thinking.
Overall, Demonic, while better than Annabelle does nothing to solidify its place next to some of Wan‘s other work. It offers an interesting premise that could pave way for a sequel, but other than that, leaves the crowd quite underwhelmed. If you’re going to watch a James Wan movie this week, perhaps the ode to the late Paul Walker would be a better choice.
Image Sources: besthorrormovielist.com, youtube.com, moviepilot.com, thereelword.net
Note that this piece dates back to 2015 and was moved from my old website to this one.