J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Demonic, Produced by James Wan

A swampy Baton Rouge location will make any haunted house scarier, but this one happens to have an especially nasty ritualistic history. You know it must be frightening, because it carries the imprimatur of James Wan, arguable the most successful horror filmmaker of the last ten years. To make even creepier, it boasts an alleged real deal predator as an executive producer—Harvey Weinstein of course. His brother Bob was always the go-to guy for their Dimension genre releases, so his grossness really shouldn’t tarnish this rather scrappy exercise in supernatural horror. History is out to repeat itself in Will Canon’s Demonic (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

In 1988, Martha Livingston killed four of her friends and then committed suicide as part of a Satanic ritual. Sometime around the present day, six young people visited her spooky old house, hoping to raise the spirits of her victims. We would know this was a spectacularly bad idea, even if the film’s flashback structure did not reveal three of them are already dead. First on the scene, Det. Mark Lewis discovers the deeply disturbed John, who could either be a victim or the perp. It turns out he has a close connection to the previous murders. His mother was the one that got away in 1988. His pregnant girlfriend Michelle and her jerky ghost-chasing ex also happen to be the two who are presently unaccounted for.

Soon, he will turn over his interrogation to police head-shrinker Dr. Elizabeth Klein, with whom he was supposed to have a date that night. The horrific events will unfold for viewers through John’s flashbacks and the bits and piece of footage restored from the team’s many surveillance cameras.

It is baffling why TWC-Dimension gave Dimension such shabby distribution, especially since it comes with the Wan branding. Despite the stupid twentynothings, this is a pretty good horror film for adults, because of the professional demeanor and personal chemistry shared by Lewis and Klein. Frank Grillo and Maria Bello are both terrific as our intrepid investigators. They act like grown-ups but still have very attractive yet seasoned screen presences.

As for the immature victims, they are mostly functional grist for the mill, but Aaron Yoo adds some awkward eccentricity as their socially stunted computer guy. It also should be stipulated, the surprise survivor who turns out to be the evil entity helps make the most of the terrifying revelation.

Unlike most supernatural horror films, Demonic adds elements of the mystery genre rather adroitly. Klein and Lewis are also unusually strong genre characters, so it is too bad Demonic’s theatrical release was squandered, thereby making a franchise based around them highly unlikely. Sure, the ending is a little nuts, but that is how it goes with haunted house-possession movies. Recommended for horror fans, Demonic releases today on DVD.

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