13 November 2013

Demon 2013 - REVIEW by Chris Young

During my teen years I spent many summers taking part in youth group activities at my church. It was free, kept me busy, and on the whole was a beneficial experience. So when I was around 22 years of age and came back from a disappointing couple of years at a college I only went to because I didn't know where else to go, I decided to use my video camera shooting and editing abilities to help entertain the next generation of teens. I had known most of these young people when they were younger and attempted to become a bit of a fun older mentor through our goofy movies. It was a good couple of years and I learned quite a lot about guerrilla filmmaking. This was information that would help me the rest of my life, and like waiting tables or running a cash register, it taught me how hard it is to make good work look easy.

When I began reviewing movies I had hoped I could stick with what were, in my humble opinion, just the good ones. Filmmaking is difficult and in some cases rather thankless work, and few things are as onerous as hauling ass on a production only to get lambasted in some armchair auteur’s weekly column. So hard to build and so easy to tear down.

But it was not to be. Recently I became aware of the fact that Tammy at Twisted Central was getting a little overwhelmed with her Twisted Tails Film Festival duties and could use a hand chipping away at some of her screeners. I offered my help, she accepted, I picked one at random and promptly found myself watching one of the worst films I’ve ever had the misfortune of losing 90 minutes of my remaining life to. So much for my high standards.

My lucky jackpot selection turned out to be “Demon”, a sloppy unfinished straight-to-DVD video that isn’t bad enough to call shlock and not good enough to play on the SYFY Channel. Most of the plot centers around a disgraced FBI agent, played quite competently by Jasmine Waltz, who is sent to investigate the unexplainable slaughter of two border agents. Along the way she is insulted and disrespected by the misogynistic local Sheriff and his halfwit deputies, followed around by a top secret government scientist who can’t wait to divulge what she’s been working on to anyone who will listen, and a Tribal Ranger for whom she builds a relationship with, presumable because he’s the only other character in the story who isn’t either stupid, abusive or out to undermine her authority.

The scientist eventually discloses that she and her aide have created the perfect killing machine, which they have released into the wild to observe its effectiveness before deploying it to the Middle East for desert warfare. As the bodies continue to pile up our heroine tries to catch the creature while navigating through a government conspiracy and dealing with PTSD she still has over losing her brother when they were kids.

THERE, I just saved two hours of your life that you can spend watching Subject Two or Session 9.

I knew I was in trouble when I thought for sure I’d been watching this movie for over an hour only to find out I’d barely hit the thirty minute mark. By then I had been subjected to various kinds of bad audio, like drop outs, poor recording and a blaring ambient noise track that frequently covered up the on location dialogue. In one scene where people are driving, the nature soundtrack is overwhelming, while there is a complete absence of motor sounds or even tire interaction with the ground. In another, where two children on the street run up to talk to the protagonist, you can tell the sound editor is using on location voice recording, except it somehow has a strange echo to it very similar to what you would hear inside a large room. I’m still trying to figure out how they accomplished that.

The editing swings between unintelligible and nonexistent, with shots staying on one character or another for far too long, even while others are talking, and seemingly random decisions about when to include reverse or insert shots. For example during a scene with a coroner we are given an unnecessary close up of rubber gloves being tossed into a trash can but get nothing when the scientists flash their identification. Long stretches of wilderness scenes have a strange purple cast with the gain turned up high as if they are both trying to attempt a poor-man’s bleach pass and imply some kind of “predator-vision” even though the shots are not from the POV of the creature.

Look, people. I have easily another two dozen notes of things that are just plain unacceptable in any kind of self-respecting film. I think the moment that finally gave me some inkling as to what I was watching was the scene where several characters are sitting around a campfire, each giving their line, one at a time as the camera turns on a tripod from one to the next without an edit. You see, when I made one of my little action videos with the teen group, we did the exact same thing. Why? Because we had no money, no crew to speak of, no script and very little time. That’s all cute for a group of teenagers, even endearing in the right circumstance.

But for a feature film, even a direct-to-DVD movie, not so much.

Jasmine Waltz deserves better than this. She has some serious acting chops. If she has an agent, fire him. If not, she needs to be more picky.

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