Low Budget Exorcism Drama Demons Shows Spunk
Even though he harbored strong reservations, Father Colin Hampstead (Miles Doleac) decided to proceed with the exorcism of mentally unbalanced 17-year-old Jewel Grant (Jessica Harthcock). He’s not altogether certain she’s possessed, but the young woman’s theologically dogmatic father Jasper (Andrew Divoff) insists the Devil has hold of his youngest child, and as such the priest is worried what this man might do if he doesn’t do as requested. But things go horribly wrong, and as things escalate beyond all control, with the entire family watching, including Jewel’s older sister Kayleigh (Lindsay Anne Williams), the young woman tragically meets her death.
Fast forward eight years. Colin has left the church and wrote a best-selling novel recounting the events of that night. He’s also married to Kayleigh, the two having what appears to be a happy life together, doing all within their power to put the events of that horrible night behind them. They’re especially excited because their home is going to be the host for the wedding of their good friend Eddie (Steven Brand) to the lovely Lara (Kristina Emerson), and it’s hard to fathom anything to could put a damper on a such a joy-filled occasion as this as all the makings to happily be.
Written and directed by star Doleac, the low budget, supernaturally-tinged thriller Demons is not what it initially appears to be. The movie is more drama than horror, more The Big Chill than The Exorcist, the filmmaker putting a much stronger emphasis on character interactions and the ways in which many of them deal with the overwhelming specter of grief than I admittedly anticipated before watching. Doleac’s script is surprisingly nuanced, especially as it pertains to Kayleigh, all of which allows the film to connect on a much deeper, for more emotionally resonate level than it ever would have otherwise. Demons has spunk, the weightiness of the themes being explored startlingly complex.
It’s still pretty rough around the ages. There are long sequences of exposition that don’t really do much to push the plot forward, just existing so that various characters can have a little bit more to do, explaining things for the more clueless members of the audience in ways that are both unnecessary and a wee bit self-indulgent. The theological debates can also grow tedious, and while I appreciate that Doleac holds firm and shows exactly how and why Colin could turn his back on the church, there is also a rudimentary banality to these sections I was frankly bored by.
Even so, the filmmaker does a nice job maintaining control, balancing both the dramatic and supernatural elements of his story nicely. Doleac juggles time, moving between the pre-wedding events set in the present and the failed exorcism of eight years prior with notable confidence. He also gets a pair of wonderful performances out of relative newcomer Williams (whom he also worked with on his previous directorial effort, The Hollow) and horror veteran Divoff, the Wishmaster icon doing some of his best work as the rigidly authoritarian Jasper. There’s also a solid, albeit brief, supporting turn from “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Smallville” star John Schneider as the Grant family doctor who feigns wanting to assist in Jewel’s exorcism, his reasons for doing so played nicely close to the vest (and paid off creatively in a brief, if slightly silly, stinger before the end credits).
From a visual standpoint, there are moments where I felt like I was watching some straight-to-VHS bargain bin Cable movie reject from the early 1990’s. At others, Doleac and his cinematographer Ben McBurnett manage to craft some seriously creepy images that grow in significance as they go along. The exorcism and its aftermath are especially well staged, and I liked how information involving as to what is really going on with Jewel, as well as who is likely most at fault for her condition, comes to light in a way that doesn’t feel forced or disingenuous.
As contrived as it all can get, Eddie’s bride-to-be Lara just so happens to be a talented psychic, while Kayleigh’s estranged mother Caroline (Caroline Baggerly) just so happens to arrive at her daughter’s house just at the moment Jewel’s spirit is working overtime to make spiritual contact, there’s still something about Demons I found satisfying. While fairly predictable and basic from a horror standpoint, and not without a small handful of narrative and technical hiccups, as a drama dealing with how friends and loved ones deal with issues relating to religion, faith and grief I found much of this absorbing. I’m relatively curious to know what Doleac might be able to accomplish if he were somehow able to get a bigger budget and a few more production-related resources, his directorial inventiveness a skill not to be underappreciated.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)