After she is arrested for murder, the angry and violent Taryn Barker declares that her victim was in fact a demon and her incarceration puts lives in danger. After the investigating detective Beckett remembers failing to save Taryn’s abducted younger sister some years previously and subsequently experiences the truth of her claims, he reluctantly aids her in going after a powerful demon with ties to her past.
Ever since Buffy popularised the setup two decades ago, there has been no shortage of snarky young women battling the forces of darkness in the shadows of city streets, and Taryn, resolutely stalking the blue-tinted Dublin night and picking a fight by quoting the Ramones, seems a natural fit alongside such heroines.
Unfortunately, after a promising start that sees the katana-wielding Taryn in a nocturnal battle that ends in decapitation (really, what’s not to love about sword-swinging Goth chick kicking ass?), the pace of Demon Hunter lurches to a crawl and from there drags unbearably. Characters seem unable to speak in anything other than pointless “let’s just say…” vagueness and portentous statements that offer nothing in the way of an explanation to back up their doom-laden pronouncements, the importance of Taryn’s backstory takes too long to recount, and the plot suffers from an overreliance on stock characters and tired genre tropes to drive it forwards.
However, after a violent midway set piece the film starts to swiftly redeem itself. The final details of Taryn’s origin are revealed, offering a neat variation on the traditional progression of these types of stories, and after learning all the prior details you become eager to see exactly how events will play out. In preparation for the final battle Taryn goes full-on Eric Draven, accompanied by a pounding rock and synth soundtrack investing an energy largely absent from much of the preceding time, while the supernatural horror is realised by some fantastic monster makeup and prosthetics, along with seamless high-quality effects work that belie the film’s limited budget.
Although once begun Demon Hunter starts to seem somewhat average it culminates as something special, and if the film could have maintained such distinctive flair throughout then it might have been destined to quickly rise as an underground classic. As it stands, it feels like a squandered opportunity that wastes too much time treading familiar ground, but at its height is a compelling tale about guilt, redemption, forgiveness and sacrifice, fully embracing everything that holds back the darkness and allows us to remain human.
DEMON HUNTER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ZOE KAVANAGH / SCREENPLAY: TONY FLYNN, ZOE KAVANAGH / STARRING: NIAMH HOGAN, ALAN TALBOT, KEVIN O’MALLEY, SARAH TAPES JENKINSON, NIC FURLONG, MICHAEL PARLE / RELEASE DATE: 12TH JUNE