FrightFest 2015: Maria Bello and Frank Grillo star in a horror / crime mash-up
This twisty genre mash-up produced by James Wan – of Saw and Insidious fame – and directed and co-written by Will Canon plays out as part haunted house horror and part crime thriller, and features a gruesome opener. Multiple narratives collide as psychologist Elizabeth (Maria Bello) questions twentysomething John (Dustin Milligan) who emerges from a mass-murder crime scene, where 20 years earlier spookily similar events took place. Meanwhile, police officer Mark (Frank Grillo) searches the house and pores over found-footage to uncover clues, pinpoint the killer and locate the two people who have mysteriously disappeared.
As the person responsible for bringing his girlfriend and a paranormal investigation team to a notorious Louisiana murder house after seeing visions of his mother, John is the prime suspect. Scenes from the evening appear in flashback through his shaken and confused eyes, with the unnerving, creaky setting playing host to effective jump-scares, as the film drops hints as to the identity of the killer. Canon nicely throws the viewer off the scent to begin with, and the intercut sequences make for a disorientating experience.
Offering the viewer different perspectives into horrifying events through both investigation and interviews with a somewhat unreliable narrator is a cunning tactic, but it isn’t handled with as much style as previous examples like Identity and The Usual Suspects. Despite the screenplay's crafty curve-balls there’s still a distinct sense of déjà vu as each thread is drawn together, while an unconvincing police slip-up is inserted to help drag the story out.
Though atmospheric and tense at times, the by-the-numbers dialogue – reminiscent of TV's CSI – somewhat flattens the film's impact. As the clues mount up with astonishing ease, you get the impression that Demonic may have worked better in long-form, where its convoluted narrative would have had more room to breathe.
Screening on Fri 28 Aug as part of FrightFest 2015. General release TBC.