One thing FrightFest has been known to deliver on in the past is a good, old fashioned scary film and Demonic is no exception. The Will Cannon-directed movie is a whodunit come haunted house caper come satanic stormer and despite these being familiar themes, the actors and editing ensure that it’s a scream.
The film follows the forensic investigation one Detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), the typical cop married to the job, much to the annoyance of his date, psychologist Elizabeth Kline (Maria Bello, A History of Violence). Both have been called to the Livingston house, which has a reputation for being haunted and in which there is a chance that further strange or possibly murderous happenings may have taken place. This is, probably expectedly, down to the meddling group of pesky kids who have decided to give the place a rattle to see if anything comes out to play.
Demonic combines Scooby-Doo style mystery solving with some rather well-timed jump scares and tension leaps. This is primarily a result of good editing which ensures focus is kept on key parts of the sequence to help with the murder mystery narrative. In addition, the set dressing is interesting, with sections of the house laid out in a suitably cheesy style while other rooms are functionally decorated, giving a sense of modern mundanity.
What really helps, however, is the acting from the young lead, Dustin Milligan (as John). He may not be as nuanced or known as Bello, but he retains a presence throughout that grounds the story in a sense of reality that is vital to the overall arc. He is ably abetted by Scott Mechlowiczas as the dastardly Bryan (the ex-boyfriend from Hell), and both actually have rather difficult jobs in terms of the roles they must play when scenes switch back and forth between the haunted house and the recognisable, neon lit world. This changes over the course of the film, because intentionally or not, the drama becomes more important as the overt scares increase. Indeed, while the frisson remains, more clichéd horror effects are gradually introduced and have the effect of making it less nerve-wracking to actually watch the screen. It becomes vital for the visual clues that are gradually given away and it can be fun to go through and play spot the pop occult imagery. The only thing that disturbs this slightly is the character of Jules (Megan Park), who comes across as a little too airheaded to be believable as someone who would know ritual magick rather than play with a bit of palm reading. It’s a small point, but it does undermine the supposed authenticity.
Demonic is a frightening haunted house film that has as many twists and turns as malevolent music box. Because it is also slightly campy fun at times, it just about gets away with its less realistic excesses. That said, the devil’s in the detail and a little less might have been more.
DEMONIC / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: WILL CANON / SCREENPLAY: WILL CANON, DOUG SIMON, MAX LA BELLA / STARRING: MARIA BELLO, FRANK GRILLO, CODY HORN, DUSTIN MILLIGAN / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 7TH (DVD)