Starring: Brian Krause, Jared Bankens, Lara Grice, Thomas Francis Murphy, Kate Tumanova
Directed and Written by: J.M Stelly
Running time: 84 Minutes
Reviewed by: Dan Oles
We’ve gotten to the point there’s a standard type of exorcist movie. When the original Exorcist was released it was genuinely controversial and powerful. It seems that now the concept has become a genre and now serves as a template for a number of typically lower budget productions, and The Demonologist is an archetype example. It’s an archetype in many other ways too. The dialogue of the police characters is boilerplate ‘hard boiled’ banter. All the other characters are stock across the board and its a testament to many of these actors they can make the typical scenarios seem at all lively or believable.
What is never believable is the supernatural aspect of the film, realized through low-budget digital effects so ubiquitous in the medium it’s impossible to take seriously at this juncture. At least the mask is nifty. Equally impossible to fully buy is the REALLY stilted dialogue of the antagonists. If the rest of the film wasn’t so earnest and played straight the ridiculous muddle of archaic language, stereotypical ‘bad guy’ phrases, clunky references to religious terminology, and frankly hilarious growly demon voices, it could easily come across as a parody of this kind of movie.
But there is a fundamental sincerity to the central performances and direction that overlies the shakier aspects of The Demonologist. When the effects are less than convincing, the camerawork tries as hard as it can to pour mood into every cheap set and not-always-impressive acting beat or bad bit of writing. For every rocky bit-character the protagonist at least is giving his all and is convincing as a likable everyman, the comic relief is brusquely fun, and there’s a certain menace to the villain who has an immediately recognizable appearance and is clearly committed to his strident monologues.
Both actors I wouldn’t mind seeing in other productions. Perhaps productions with more of an emphasis on story and less on special effects.
I’m not describing the plot because you can probably predict it by the title and any knowledge of horror films. There’s no real mystery here, even though a majority of the film is the lead detective finding clues. The reason is not only that the elements are overplayed in the extreme (tarot cards, pentagrams, famous historical atrocities, esoteric theology…etc) but that the very opening scene basically explains the antagonist’s plans and we keep cutting between the hero and the villain throughout the film so there’s never much suspense.
There’s a lot of nudity, but it’s not exactly artfully introduced. Between it and the spurting blood it goes for a high rating, but it’s so goofy in other ways it’s difficult to imagine a truly mature audience looking this up. It’s an old school thriller at heart: simple murder mystery, ghoulish imagery balanced by some scattered action beats.
The real killer of this potentially enjoyable (if prototypical) horror feature is the glacial pacing. The Demonologist is charmingly enthusiastic about its mishmash of borrowed components from hundreds of other stories the writer/director clearly loved. There’s elements of the Phantasm series here as well as nods to The Exorcist, Constantine, and clearly some homages to Seven. But what keeps this from being fully immersive is that everything takes…so…long…to…happen. Obvious scenarios are set up and take forever to play out, seldom deviating from course. Characters say exactly what you expect them to say but they take forever to say it. There’s a lot of moments where characters just talk at each other and use such empty, familiar phrases it’s difficult to keep invested. Any movie in which the villain declares the hero ‘pathetic’ always makes me roll my eyes.
The numerous heartfelt dedications at the conclusion coupled with the full-on embrace of the more ‘superhero’ aspect of the story are so charming you can’t stay mad at this movie. It’s a clear labor of love, has some fun moments, and it’s nothing more or less than another example of the genre.
I’ve seen better, but I’ve also seen considerably worse.
Anti-Hero The Motion Comic Series
Episode 1 (Watch for Free!) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmmouuBlWTk&t=49s