STACK caught up with filmmaker Neill Blomkamp via Zoom to discuss his latest film, Demonic, and he began the conversation by reflecting on the circumstances which led to it being made.

Blomkamp is synonymous with a distinctive brand of tech-infused science fiction, with films like District 9, Elysium and Chappie making his mark on the cinematic landscape undeniably unique.

His vision might be described as cyberpunk with a dilapidated veneer, and his trademark aesthetic has earned him a place amongst the titans of sci-fi.

When the global pandemic struck and crippled the world, Blomkamp found himself in a seemingly dormant industry. Productions were screeching to a halt and the industry was on its knees, and only tenacious ingenuity was going to see some survive the storm. The rise of the teleconferencing service Zoom has begun to change the game, and we’ve seen odd films made within it, such as Host. Other creative endeavours have worked within the confines of lockdowns such as Songbird and Social Distance, but all have made their limitations and circumstances part of their concept and none actually resonate without the COVID factor.

Demonic stands apart from the aforementioned titles, and has been crafted to endure beyond the reach of coronavirus. It tells the story of a woman, Carly, who participates in an experiment to enter the mind of her estranged, psychotic and comatose mother via a radical medical practice involving mind-to-mind simulation. The lines between the simulation and reality become blurred, and Carly disturbs a demon that has been hibernating inside her mother’s mind.

Demonic

“It was a case of the pandemic slowing everything down and I wanted to just keep working on something fun. I’d always wanted to do something like The Blair Witch Project, like some kind of self-financed horror movie. So, once I decided to do that around April of 2020 and I had a bunch of different ideas for things, I was just going to experiment in different ways and put them into a blender to make a horror film.”

With heightened panic gripping the globe and entire cities plunging into lockdown, we asked about the disposition of his crew and whether or not the anxiety of working during the pandemic made for a vulnerable production.

“In general, I think people wanted something to do,” he explains. “Like the crew I was working with was pretty happy to be working on something. So, there wasn’t that much hesitation and, I mean we had all of the protocols in place and followed them. But this was all very early on and the movie then had an additional eight or nine months of VFX. So, shooting feels like it was much later than it actually was.” Pausing for a moment to cast his mind back he adds, “I’m not actually sure that lockdowns had occurred, because obviously if Canada was in an actual lockdown, we wouldn’t have been able to shoot.”

“I’m not sure what I was doing. I was just blending stuff together.”

With all of his work bearing such unique and distinct stamps on them, we asked if – given the circumstances – he was influenced by other films in bringing Demonic to life.

“Man, the movie is just so weird and it’s hard to point to anything that was a reference, other than just liking the idea of what the filmmakers behind Paranormal Activity did. The original version of the movie was shooting in my house.” he says with amusement. “So, it was very inspired by the roll-up-your-sleeves kind of make-it-happen-yourself vibe of Paranormal Activity. But, on a creative level, it’s hard to point to references that I was consciously aware of. It’s just a weird film that way. I’m not sure what I was doing. I was just blending stuff together.”

Demonic

Demonic is a delicious experiment which combines low budget DIY filmmaking with the manipulation of pre-existing technology called Volumetric Capture. In an attempt to break that down for the laymen amongst us, Neill explains, “It’s basically the idea of capturing a three-dimensional virtual model of whatever it is that you’re capturing, which in this case was two actresses.” We nod along as if we’re keeping up… He continues, “You capture a three-dimensional version of them 24 times a second. And it’s like a cab file and it’s completely viewable from any angle.”

There’s a reason why Blomkamp is a master of his craft, and sometimes it takes a genius to understand a genius. Suffice to say we had no idea what the hell he was talking about until he simplified it even further, much to both of our amusement. “It’s photogrammetry. All of Google Earth is actually photogrammetry when it’s in 3D mode. That’s how those buildings are created”.

Ah, gotcha. Sort of… Never ask a magician how they perform their tricks is what we take away from that. What remains certain is that Demonic is a creative and effective movie that subverts the demonic possession genre and will be remembered as the cheeky horror movie Neill Blomkamp made in the midst of the global pandemic.

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