Demon is a film that, if given a 30-minute runtime, would be an exceptional look at racial bias and male mental health. Sadly it goes on for too long with too many terrible performances worsened by a plot that doesn’t do enough—a true shame.
When an unpaid train fine comes back to haunt him, office worker Ralph (Ryan Walker-Edwards) flees London to a forest motel where a temporary hideout becomes a nightmarish purgatory, and emerging ghosts of the past forces him to confront the loss of his father.
Demon is full of good intentions, and some moments work very well considering the low budget (and I mean low). Yet when it moves away from what works so well for it. The discussions of male mental health are the strongest aspects of the film, yet they get sidelined needlessly. We see Ralph’s wellness decline rapidly, to the point that when a fight scene occurs, we see it as an old video game, but this is obviously meant to be a vision of how Ralph himself views the world he is in.
The trauma that Ralph had as a child in losing her father is keenly felt throughout Demon, and it is in those moments that we feel the most empathy for him; however, when the film brings in the dogging thread, the film is firmly off the rails and struggling hard to bring itself back on. Confusion reigns throughout the picture when subplots such as this are thrown into the piece. They seem to be added to bring more substance to the film when they lose us.
Several other themes are brought up, and everyone judging Ralph immediately due to his skin colour is as potent as it gets. However, some of that is thrown away due to how awkward and suspect he sounds in those conversations, for example, when he calls for a taxi. His conversation would set anyone’s alarm bells off, no matter the skin colour. Ralphs’ own obvious racial bias experiences have him think that the taxi drivers refuse to drive him. But at this point, he is so far gone that he can’t see the forest for the trees. When moments regarding race are highlighted, they sometimes work. But we also have some of the stupidest characters to ever grace a screen here. As much as the story tries to use racial bias for some matters when those same characters do some stupendous idiot things, you have to wonder what the point is.
Demon could work in more capable hands, but moments are either given a too heavy-handed approach or are so lightly touched that you would have to do some serious digging to find a connection. A film shouldn’t be this frustrating nor give its audience so much work to do in only 82 minutes. It just never clicks.
The adding of colour only when we see Ralph’s home video footage or when he is in his “dreams” colours come in, yet we are in black and white to try and give that noir feel for most of the picture. Coupled with awkward-looking angles throughout, this is a film trying its best to give that mystery noir feel. It just doesn’t work as with most good noirs; the story is vital, and this is as threadbare a plot as you will see.
However, what hampers Demon more so isn’t the lack of a story that can continue for 82 minutes (this, in honesty, would be a tremendous short); it is the absolute abysmal acting on display. Next to no one comes out of this with any credit; the acting is wooden and surely not was hoped for. Only Ryan Walker-Edwards does well, but the complexity of the character is missing. As such, he isn’t given enough to do other than to look frantic and confused at nearly every turn.
Demon will be screening at Cinequest between 20th-30th March with a UK release date later in the year
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