5 video games that demand a film adaptation (and some that don’t)

Going by the AAA titles, game design shares elements with film design. Having a fully voiced and acted plotline is common these days. However, video games make for poor films. Game series that get adapted to film are campy cult hits at best, and a waste of everyone’s time at worst.
Still, games adapted to film aren’t an entirely toxic concept; it just takes a little bit of lateral thinking. Here are 5 films I feel could be interesting adaptations, and a few that definitely shouldn’t make a trip to Hollywood. (Note that some titles I mention may be in production already. Just because they exist doesn’t mean they should.)
Take them to the silver screen
Yakuza (2005, Sega)
Who would direct it?: Chan-wook Park (Oldboy)
Yakuza has drama on two levels. On one, there’s the inter-personal relationships of ageing yakuza members searching for peace and comfort. On another, there’s Kazuma Kiryu repeatedly ramming a barstool into some thug’s face.
Adapted as an action movie, a gradual swing between emotional torment and low budget, brutally choreographed violence would be deliciously harrowing; a welcome escape from the CGI and explosions that’s the normal go-to for the genre.
Luigi’s Mansion (2002, Nintendo)
Who would direct it?: Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon, Mulan)
Feel-good summer blockbuster of the year; one plumber who has long suffered in his brother’s shadow, plucks up the courage to be the driving force in his own life. A decent animation studio is a must – the Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t work in real-life proportions, evidenced many times.
Half the fun would be Luigi’s ghostbusting antics, the other half being a great art direction. Hey, if Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph makes a decent return at the box office, and they retain the license to use Nintendo characters, this may not end up being conjecture.
…I wish.
Driver: San Francisco (2011, Ubisoft)
Who would direct it?: Scott Sanders (Black Dynamite)
Driver:SF is a love letter to the car chase genre, right down to bonus missions that reference big-name films set in San Fran. However, a Scary Movie style adaptation with endless references isn’t going to cut it.
The plot of Driver:SF is campy, simple and incidental (John Tanner is a cop chasing down criminal mastermind Charles Jericho – even in his dreams), meaning a film version can go all out in telling a self-parodying tale about comas, fast cars, and rebellious police.
If they manage to retain the game’s mechanic of Tanner possessing other drivers, the chase sequences could be unlike any other.
L.A. Noire (2011, Team Bondie)
Who would direct it?: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
The Artist, though I didn’t care for it, proved an important point – the techniques of old can have modern relevance. Gaming fans already know about this (what with all the retro-style indie games out there), but here it means that mimicking old film styles has more validity than just being a gimmick.
L.A. Noire‘s 1940s setting heavily reflects actual Film Noir (right down to the use of flashback), but Film Noir is traditionally done in the ‘past tense’ (with the protagonist as a narrator), while L.A. Noire is very much ‘present tense’. Doing the adaptation in a true-to-period style would make for an interesting angle, and might encourage viewers to look into some Noir classics.
Mother 3 (2006, Nintendo)
Who would direct it?: Chris Butler (ParaNorman, Coraline)
The Mother series is known for its cute and colourful settings, with a darker horrifying plot underneath. That kind of setup just begs to be told in a twee stop-motion format (without Tim Burton, preferably).
Mother 3 in particular is a great tale experienced by few, and a surprisingly sad and moving one at that. Having recently watched ParaNorman, the team behind that would do incredible justice to such a project. Just… Don’t let very young children watch – they may be permanently scarred.
Keep them on the game console
Mass Effect series (2007-2012, Bioware)
Mass Effect’s charm really isn’t in its world-building. What the games did well was making that world feel relevant to the player – a range of choices in character design, dialogue options, good/evil dichotomies, and so on. A film (being a linear narrative) has to choose a single story path – so writers of a Mass Effect movie would have to try and encompass a representative telling of the games with a single continuity – and that just ain’t happening.
The series’ huge backstory also puts it in a position similar to the lacklustre Watchmen. A fine line stands between drowning newcomers in lore, and not having enough in-jokes for the diehard fans. Failure results in a hot mess. Mass Effect would likely suffer even worse – fans are going to take every difference between the film and their own personal experience on board.
Uncharted series (2007-2011, Naughty Dog)
Uncharted is already 90% film. The set pieces in the series are grand and dramatic, but the best moments are where you have control during the death-defying parts – the possibility that you could mess up and leave Nathan Drake to perish. Just watching the same scene (without the uncertainty of survival, no less) voids that tension.
Aside from that, the actual events in the Uncharted games are pressingly generic in action films. We’ve had decades of ruins exploration, shoot-outs against Russians and snappy one-liners – Drake as a character can’t offer anything new to that formula.
Heavy Rain (2010, Quantic Dream)
Heavy Rain is, in a way, a film rendered as a video game. The director, David Cage, has gone on record many times saying that the future of games is to make them more like films, and has yet to prove himself correct.
The game’s cinematography is definitely first class, but little else is. Heavy Rain‘s story is unique for a game, but dire for a film. Character motivations are all over the place, and the character plot threads are hastily stitched together. An adaptation would have to fix so much to make things competent, it may as well be a different story.
Final Notes
Video game stories are generally unambitious and often pandering, but a common complaint levelled at film adaptations (and this holds true for films adapted from other kinds of media) is that the narrative strays too far from the original work. The long-term fans want to see their darlings in a 1:1 translation, and won’t stand for less.
The best film adaptations that I’ve seen don’t take the source’s story verbatim, but instead understand the feel of the original. The Street Fighter movie isn’t great, but it’s an adaptation that definitely captures the goofy nature of Street Fighter, even if the character roles and actor choices are unorthodox.

If game-to-film adaptations are to succeed, the games with a strong theme, easily understood context, and with room for reinterpretation are key. Just taking what sells well isn’t going to cut it.
Then again, since when were adaptations about artistic integrity?

Skoonheid (Beauty)

This article can also be found at The Yorker, here.

I’m all for more queer-themed films. Not just because I’m one of those filthy heathen LGBTQ types, but because there’s scope for more stories to be told than common blockbuster archetypes; or failing that, a fresh twist on them.

I assumed Beauty, a South African film by director Oliver Hermanus, would prove to be another Weekend, a low-key hit that tells a story from a queer perspective. I was introduced to the film with the synopsis that the protagonist (François, played by Deon Lotz) was a middle-aged man from a bigoted background, forced to struggle with his own latent homosexuality.

  This led me to take for granted that I was in for an experience where lessons would be learned, hearts may end up being warmed, and regardless of the outcome, it would give the viewer something to think about. Yes, this assumption is a little stale and saccharine; but I feel we’re still socially at a stage where a minority-positive message is important and helpful.

Too bad that Beauty ended up as far from that as possible. François has unbridled lust in Christian (Charlie Keegan), the son of a close friend – close enough for them to be in a uncle/nephew relationship; and it’s actually a little unclear that this isn’t the case. For some reason this swiftly escalates into stalking, and eventually – and I apologize for spoiling the film’s climax – rape.

This ungraceful plunge off the moral deep-end isn’t done with much character development; at least nothing to make François a character worth following or Christian more complex than a plot device.
Sure, we get multiple scenes of lingering and dialogue-free shots of François going about his business – Hermanus takes the Axiom ‘show, don’t tell’ a little too close to heart, and these moments are meant to give you the chance to read François’ expression and ponder about what’s on his mind; but they’re a total waste – most feel like a tool to pad out the film’s 105 minutes, and are dull enough to make the film feel more like 2+ hours.

If, at the end of it all, there was a resolution, or some kind of visible sign that François realises he’s a terrible human being, then prepare to throw down your hat in disgust and frustration. After the sexual abuse, Christian vanishes from the narrative, his plot device fulfilled.

The sole redeeming factor of this appalling mess was the script – the characters are bilingual in both English and Afrikaans, and code-switch freely. It’s something that I’ve not seen done in a film before – even ones that have dialogue in multiple languages – and it helps make the conversations feel more legitimate and real.

In fact, realism may have been what Hermanus was going for – there’s no doubt that in real life there are mentally disturbed hypocritical bigots, and something like 90% of sexual assaults do go unreported (regardless of gender); but this is not the way to deliver such awful and distressing topics.
If this is ever released on DVD, I hope there’s a bonus scene of François being hit by a truck. Then I would hate Beauty marginally less.

Film Review: Les Adoptés (The Adopted)

©Studio Canal

My media consumption is largely starved of quality Human Drama – partially because I’m a fan of psychological/horror, partially because a lot of my media consumption is in video games, and they tend not to handle emotional narrative too well. To that end, I do relish it when a well-made emotional rollercoaster comes along, and to that end Les Adoptés (The Adopted) knows how to push my buttons.

Maybe the reason for my appreciation is the ‘Foreign Film’ angle. I’m not pretentious enough to label non-English films as better by default, but it works in The Adopted‘s favour thanks to the cultural differences. While a romantic film about beautiful people living bohemian lives in Paris is nothing new, it feels just that little more understated compared to how Hollywood might handle it.

The plot follows sisters Marine (Marie Denarnaud) and Lisa (Mélanie Laurent), equally raising Lisa’s child, Léo. Marine is actually adopted, but it’s never proved a problem for the pair, having been best friends since childhood. Then, when Marine meets Alex (Denis Menochet), a ruggedly handsome (and I do mean handsome) food critic, Marie has to juggle the love of her life, and the fear of shattering the status-quo with her sister.

So far, so stereotypical, right? But there’s a catch – at the end of the first act, Marine is suddenly out of the picture, and the narrative focuses on Lisa and Alex instead. The shift in tone is hardly whiplash, but it’s clear that The Adopted isn’t going to finish how it started out.

Still, the writing is definitely great at keeping pace. Dialogue is witty, especially that from Lisa’s mother, Millie (Clémentine Célarié); possibly owed to a well-localised subtitles translation. I found myself enjoying the character ups-and-downs for the 100 minutes without thinking of how much longer the film was. That said, while the film’s events were kept snappy from scene-to-scene, the actual sense of time progression was really vague. Knowing how much time passes over the course of the second act would do a lot more for empathising with the cast.

What really bowled me over was me not loathing Léo. Young children in cinema are, as a rule, entirely insufferable; both on screen and in the seats. And yet, i found myself largely tolerating this kid; even finding him somewhat… cute. How appalling; I must be going soft.

The Adopted is definitely a cheesy drama, but most likely more so by French standards than British. If you’re looking for something relaxing but still engaging, this should be your film to watch this week.

This review can be found at The Yorker, here.

Ugly on the inside: Girl Model review

This review can be found at The Yorker, here.

I would say it’s relatively common knowledge that the fashion advertising industry is toxic. In addition to all the body-shaming and the increasingly unrealistic and creepy ‘standards’ of beauty, you don’t even need to go into gender studies theory to notice the exploitation and manipulation of everyone involved.

With that in mind, Girl Model, a documentary film about how model scouting works and the quality of life for the models, is very clear about the tone it’s going to supply.
©wiki commons
Focusing on Nadya, a young Russian girl aiming to be a model, and Ashley, a scout tasked with finding models for the Japanese market, the film follows Nadya’s story chronologically, switching to Ashley every now and again as something of a Greek Chorus – Ashley was a model herself when she was 18, and her experience has affected her; maybe even broken her.
The idea that the modelling industry is problematic is always present, but not always overt. In the very first scene the camera pans around a room full of Siberian girls for an initial try-out, almost all of them look scared and self-concious, standing around awkwardly in bikinis and bathing suits, only smiling (awkwardly) when they notice they’re being filmed. Girls are turned down for being 2 centimetres too wide in the hips, and althoughGirl Model makes no direct reference to anorexia and eating disorders, looking at what models ‘qualify’ speaks for itself.
This is, of course, compounded by the constant discussion of youth and innocence as beauty. It’s not a new concept – you could find countless examples in advertising that echo that axiom – but when you’re told that alongside images of young girls (we’re talking kids as young as 13 here), it’s shudder-inducing. Ashley says multiple times that it’s what the market in Japan demands, but you hope that’s a sales pitch, and not the whole truth.
I personally find documentary films an odd breed – especially since I personally go to the cinema for a more pacey, tense experience; but Girl Model has its own tension. Watching naive teens get exploited should be harrowing for most, even when they (tastefully) decide not to fully discuss just how morally ambiguous fashion advertising can get. The scenes with Ashley steal the show as you slowly find out just how damaged she’s become.

Not quite psychological warfare: Safe House review

This review can also be found at The Yorker, here.

Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is an ex-CIA agent who’s widely respected and somewhat feared by intelligence agencies worldwide for two reasons. Firstly, he’s a psychological genius; secondly, he makes a living stealing governmental secrets and selling them for astronomical amounts. This is the kind of anti-hero that you’d love to see in an action-thriller; someone capable of baffling his foes and still asserting an air of confidant dominance.

©wiki commons
Unfortunately, Safe House is not that movie. Instead, we get another loud, somewhat obnoxious action film with more emphasis on gunfights than any kind of character interaction. Denzel doesn’t get to be the main character; that accolade instead goes to Ryan Reynolds, playing as Matt Weston – the keeper of a South African safe house that Tobin has been kept in to be interrogated by the CIA.
Nor is there much in the way of clever mind games, with the exception of two scenes. Admittedly those scenes do a good job of demonstrating Tobin’s skills, but generally I found myself far more interested in his story and motivations, rather than the generic Milquetoast protagonist I’d been lumped with.
I suppose the worst part of action films like this is that they rely almost a little too heavily on the gun-play – so any points where there’s a lull in the shooting and screaming, the pace takes a complete nosedive – a real issue when the film is two hours. I found myself dozing off at around the hour mark before being awoken to the sound of a car being crashed through something.
An odd point of note is the agency secrets that Tobin safeguards through the film. Due to the ‘in the near future’ setting, this McGuffin isn’t as present – spending most of the film lodged in Tobin’s flesh. Then, once that plot hook resolves, the impact is really rather understated.
Safe House has a decent cast, and leads with some rather interesting plot hooks, but it fails to deliver on all accounts.

I now hate everything: Journey 2: the Mysterious Island

This review can also be found at The Yorker, here.

Good god, I hated this movie. I have never had a piece of cinema just fill me with so much ire, so much frustration, so much… fremdschämen on behalf of the actors. My hate for it permeates every aspect of the film and my own being.

I hate how it’s a sequel to a 2008 film that no one cared about. Journey to the Center of the Earthwarranted no sequel, and no one who had seen it would be expecting another one. At the showing I watched, I was accompanied by about ten 8 year olds, none of whom would even remember the existence of the original film. A bit of a waste, considering they’re the intended audience.
©warner bros; Image Credit: wikipedia
I hate the cast. Dwayne Johnson may have given up one form of acting for another by entering film after his wrestling career, but I can’t wait until he stops being cast for things. Josh Hutcherson being cast as the main character is a given, considering he was also in the original film, but his entire presence feels like he’s trying to imitate Shia LeBoeuf (and that’s not a good thing). We get treated to a Sean Anderson that’s the ‘rebel teen’ all the kids want to be. He rides a motorcycle! He gets to go on adventures! He hates his mom and step-dad just like me! Groan.
And my loathing for the characters doesn’t stop there. Sean’s little escapade to the titular island doesn’t just feature The Rock, but also an Objectified Female Lead (Vanessa Hudgens) and a Comedic Racist Caricature (Luiz Guzmán)! I just love it when the only woman in an adventure film is decked out in a belly top and short-shorts while everyone else gets to wear clothes that don’t expose them to the elements. It gets even better when her father exists to make the kids laugh at ‘the silly fat man falling down’, coupled with one-liners in a meant-to-be-Polynesia accent (that funnily enough his daughter doesn’t have. Don’t want the love interest to be too foreign!)
Oh, and I really hate the writing. From the contrived circumstances that get them to the island (rapid solving of obtuse clues that wouldn’t look out of place on The Crystal Maze); to the way the script absolutely refuses to show, not tell; to the scene at the end where Objectified Female Lead stops her father from taking a golden boulder back with him by saying “We already have the real treasure… we’re together”. And the line where The Rock sees a giant lizard and says “Why did it have to be lizards? Why couldn’t it be snakes?” as if referencing Indiana Jones would suddenly make this trash comparable.
I hate the graphics of this movie. You know it’s on the “In 3D!” bandwagon because there’s a scene every 20 minutes where there’s a slow motion pan and particle effects fly into the camera. It’s so regular you could set your watch by it. What’s worse is that none of it looks good – especially if you watch it in regular old 2D like I did. The CG effects are so conspicuous that the rest of the scenery props look defiantly fake. Plastic plants and Styrofoam rocks abound.
It positively boils my blood that people will say “It doesn’t matter that this movie isn’t good. It’s for kids!” Children are impressionable people, and media in all forms – from film to television to games – will have an effect on how they see the world. Journey 2 doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but it doesn’t need to be a cynical low-budget action film cashing in on the safe knowledge that parents are entirely willing to feed their kids junk if it will keep them quiet. It’s taking locations from the works of Jules Verne! Imagine if a film encouraged children to actually read; it would be glorious.
And what I hate most is that this has already happened before in 2001 with Spy Kids. Everything from the graphics to the writing to the style of casting. I watched that film a bunch of times when I was a kid, and it just makes me want to shake my younger self and say “Dude! There are so many better movies out there!”
On the other hand, the kids in the cinema loved it; in amongst the throwing of popcorn and the shrieking. If you know someone you hate who has a child under 10, recommending them this film would be appropriate torment.

Desert Living: Bombay Beach Review

This review can be found at The Yorker, here.

Living in poverty is trying. So is living in a desert, and miles away from any major settlement. What was once advertised as a thriving tourist resort in the 50s is now a wasteland – and those who are left behind have to do their best to get by. Such is the premise of Bombay Beach.

Bombay Beach is shot as a documentary, except not quite. It has all the handy-cam shots and the interview voice-overs, and the cutaways to the landscape, but it’s also peppered with odd sort-of musical scenes, and a lot of vague confusion.
The plot switches between three stories – the old and racist retiree Red, who’s saving up enough to go to the nearby old folks’ village and see long-lost acquaintances; CeeJay, a teenager working towards a sports scholarship, dealing with romance and prejudice along the way; and Benny, the youngest son of a neglectful family, plagued with behavioural problems and never really fitting in.
These tales are all set up for maximum heartstrings-pulling, but I could never find myself too invested. Then again, that may say more about my stony heart than the characterization of the cast. While Hollywood is full to the brim with tales of the upper-middle class and the wonderful lives they lead, Bombay is very refreshing in comparison. There are countless shots of destroyed and desiccated wildlife, giving some powerful if maybe too overt metaphors about the lives of our characters. It’s countered by scenes of the Bombay Beach residents getting together for meals, work, and parties. Lots of parties.
Director Alma Har’el also works in music videos, and that’s definitely reflected here. The music scenes are well-shot, paired with good music choices (though none of it in a genre I much care for), and while you would struggle to say that they helped the plot along at all, they meshed well with the sedate pacing of the rest of the film.
The film’s ending is annoyingly abrupt. Of course, with the documentary style, it’s clear that the lives of these people are ongoing, and aren’t going to have an ‘end’ to an arc in the narrative sense over the course of the hour-and-a-quarter; they don’t all fully resolve, which might prove frustrating for people who’ll get really invested in these characters. Benny in particular is very interesting, and even without having my heart melt at the adorable childish antics of him and his friends – I wanted to see the fight against his bipolar disorder to see a happy conclusion. Or any conclusion at all.
Bombay Beach is an arthouse film through and through, which will delight those looking for a cinematic experience outside the Action/Horror/Romance trifecta – but it’ll ring as vague and a little pretentious to others, and that sadly includes myself.

Film Review: Weekend

This review can also be found at The Yorker.

The majority of my experience with romance-type movies has been rooted firmly in the sappy, feel-good realm. And I can’t goddamn stand them. Boy meets girl in a chance encounter – potentially a rather strange one; their stark personality differences make it seem like they’re never going to make a deeper connection; they argue, but in the end see how badly they need each other and get together again in a sequence scientifically tested to produce the largest “Awwww” from its audience.

Weekend does check all those boxes, but at the same time it throws all those boxes out of the window, and calls you stupid for bringing up such a formulaic romance plot. Weekend tries to offer something much more real and bittersweet; and starts off by centering the entire thing around a gay romance. Which, for me, definitely puts it in ‘real and bittersweet’ territory, but more on that later.

Russell (Tom Cullen) is stuck in emotional limbo. While he’s incredibly close to his friends, he’s also really closed-off when it comes to talking about himself. On a whim he visits a gay bar, meets Glen (Chris New), and ends up having hazy, drunken sex. All he knows is that Glen is an artist, outgoing and agressively open with his sexuality; and over the period of a weekend, they find that meeting each other has become one of the best and one of the worst things that has happened to them.

This is where the Realness Factor comes in. Everything from the setting to the key events of the narrative are subdued and coated in that thick, matte grey that covers England’s inner-city urban living. It feels so familiar – I understand and recognise the motorways, the glum rides on public transport, and the shitty and cramped nightclubs. However, that’s not to say that Weekend entirely forgoes more traditional film techniques, or is entirely moody and grim. The tone switches from melancholic to funny to sexy (I’m way too prudish to talk about the sex scenes in any real detail but it manages to be both steamy and tasteful with little effort) at a regular rate without stumbling in pacing.

However, Weekend is a movie with a message – and a rather self-defeating one at that. Glen’s openness about his sexuality is augmented with intense ire for a society that’s so heterocentric and prudish, which Russell occasionally gets the brunt of. This means that every so often Glen will have a rant about his favourite topic, and the scene stops just short of flashing “HERE’S THE MORAL” on-screen. That’s not to say that message imparted is wrong, quite the opposite (if asked I would wholeheartedly rave about how social stigma gives LGBT issues the short end of the stick), but no one likes being beaten over the head with a message – even if making it that obvious could be argued as necessary.

Building on this idea, at one point Glen discusses an art installation he’s planning regarding gay sexual experiences, but admits that (and forgive me for not having the exact quote) gay people wouldn’t go without the promise of nudity, and straight people wouldn’t go because homosexuality is still considered a weird and taboo topic for many. You could hear a number of nervous laughs in the audience at that line.

That theme struck a personal chord with me – while inwardly I could agree with most of Glen’s viewpoint, on every other level I embody Russell’s emotionally-distant awkwardness. It made the romance between the two leads – the small silences, the confiding of secrets, the holding of hands – both heart-wrenchingly cute and depressingly unobtainable. The film’s resolution, while not dancing to the rhythm of how a prototypical romance should go, instead sticks closely to the conclusion the general tone of the film implies.

While most first think of Brokeback Mountain as the must-see film with gay themes, for me Weekend is set to have much more social significance. That said, I am still waiting for a film where a homosexual protagonist doesn’t have his (or her) own sexuality as the main conflict.

Film Review: Dream House

Psychological thrillers are hard to do properly. Whether trying to appeal to a pretentious deep-seated metaphor, or just a set up for an M. Night Shaymalan-esque twist, attention absoltuely has to be paid to keeping the twist obscured, and orchestrated to pack the biggest emotional punch; what’s colloquially known as the ‘MindF**k’. What you can’t go and do is give the twist at the end of the first act with next to no buildup.

It looks like Dream House didn’t get the memo.

Okay, so the premise then. Daniel Craig is Will Atenton, a British man with an all-American family, moving into the house of his dreams. Problem is, the neighbours are freaked out by him, there are goths hanging out in his basement, and… oh yeah, five years ago the family living there were shot in cold blood. So not so dreamy then.

This could have devolved into a run-of-the-mill slasher film with the ghosts of the recently deceased causing havoc, but no, Dream House is clearly too smart for something so gauche. After finding out that the husband of the murdered family survived and was interred at the local mental hospital, Will goes to visit the facility, and then The Twist happens. I would feel bad for spelling it out (though the film’s trailer blatantly spoils the twist…), but I’ll just say that the reveal is laughably contrived, lacked build-up, and poor Daniel Craig did his best to act as if the revelation was tearing him apart.

With the twist out of the way so early into the film, the rest of the runtime is taken up with a one-sided murder mystery. Only Will Atenton seems particularly interested with the pursuit of the truth, neither the police nor the audience offer more than a shrug, and just leave him to get on with it.

That’s not to say that Daniel and the rest of the cast are doing a bad job of working with the awful source material; they just can’t do anything to save it. A fair amount of dialogue is required from the two daughters of the family in order to go for a sappy, heartstring-pulling angle (rendering them immediately annoying from the get-go), and the rest of the cast does a good job of keeping them in line, but the end result doesn’t really work. It’s pandering and tedious.

Dream House’s thrilling conclusion goes down like the clichéd path it was predestined to roll towards. Villains are evil and hateful simply because they’re evil and hateful, everything goes down in flames, and it all resolves with a happy ending like there was no gruesome murder in the first place. Yawn.

Dream House turned out to be a movie that thought it could survive on star power. Hopefully its failure will stand out as an example to other film projects as what not to do when putting a thriller together.

Film Review – Demons Never Die

This review can also be found at the Yorker.

I’m not particularly well-versed in horror films, but a lifetime of cultural osmosis has left me with a good understanding of how it’s supposed to go. Morally bankrupt, personality-lacking, or otherwise Orange County everydude Americans are put somewhere dark and isolated through contrived circumstance, and are summarily killed – by a supernatural entity, a guy with a chainsaw, or just ’cause.

Aside from the killings, Demons Never Die entirely ignores this framework – and really it’s worse off for it. While I doubt it’s a full explanation for why this is the case, Demons is a British film, an oddity in a genre seemingly dominated by the US. Set in London, it has that same mixture of authenticity and self-parody that Attack the Block had with its council-estate setting. The soundtrack is Grime and D’n’B throughout, which I honestly quite liked.

The plot follows a group of kids who form a suicide pact when a girl at their 6th Form College takes her own life. Most have the details as to why they want to die fleshed out, and some are surprisingly serious – the female lead Samantha (Emma Rigby) suffering from schizophrenia, and Ricky (Femi Oyeniran) being pressured by his homophobic father. Lead character Archie (Robert Sheehan) has some trappings of unhinged stalker to his personality, which is interesting in his interactions with Samantha, but after a while it’s played as endearing. Odd.

As the story progresses, they eventually realise that an elaborate suicide is not the solution to their problems, and become all a bit more comfortable with themselves. The cast have had their share of movies prior (sharing a few names with Adulthood), and they manage to get some compelling character interaction going, and you find yourself rooting for them to find a solution. That’s not how slasher films are supposed to go at all! All of the Final Destinations and the Halloweens out there have almost intentionally flat or dislikeable characters, so when the flesh-rending eventually occurs, we don’t feel like awful human beings for finding it entertaining.

Speaking of flesh-rending, that aspect is the weakest part of Demons Never Die by far. At the same time as the suicide pact plot, we find that there is a masked killer picking off the kids one-by-one with a hunting knife. It’s clear that the film was produced on a low budget – not being able to go all-out on the violence is understandable, but Demons employs some incredibly obvious cutaways, torn clothing and blood packs; and it feels cheap; especially since the death of the kids doesn’t seem to drive the plot as much as you think it would.

Up until the third act where literally every named character ends up knifed (to no real emotional impact – even with all the effort they put into characterisation), nothing would be particularly lost if all the murder scenes were removed. In fact, with some editing, Demons Never Die would be better off as a one-shot BBC human drama.

Part of me wonders if when this film was initially pitched, they had to crowbar in a crazed killer to get it to fit into a Halloween season release; but that’s just wishful thinking on my part. There’s nothing wrong with having a different take on a genre, but Demons is too tame to be a horror, and too shallow to be a drama – a failed experiment.