The “yank’em out of the frame” horror movie effect has been beaten to death in the twenty or so years since it became commonplace. So it’s always refreshing when someone comes along and turns demonic creatures — young women, usually — into wall-skittering crabs (“The Ring” movies) or something else new.
In the Malaysian/South Asian production “Don’t Look at the Demon,” a “gifted” hostess of a haunted house TV series, and her production crew, stumble across an actually-“haunted” house, with a demon who lifts victims off the floor and drags them from room to room.
That’s new. So a tip of the hat to Dhrutiranjan Sahoo and the effects team for adding that to their repertoire for this Fiona Dourif West-Meets-Eastern demonic thriller. It’s a loud, in-your-face tapdance through horror tropes that passes muster as a slick production even if it isn’t the most original thing I’ve seen this month.
Dourif, who appeared in the recent “Chucky” TV series with her dad, horror icon Brad Dourif (He’s the voice of Chucky.), plays a young woman haunted by her first encounter with the supernatural as a child. That “summoning,” with the pentangle, the ritual, all that jazz, got her sister killed.
Now Jules is “getting paid” for what she went through back then as hostess of “The Skeleton Crew,” a touring reality ghost-hunting reality show. When we encounter her, producer Matty (Jordan Belfi), camera crew brothers Wolf and Ben (Randy Wayne, Harris Dickinson) and new translator Annie
(Thao Nhu Phan), they’re in Thailand, witnessing a monk (Konglar Kanchanhoti) torture a young woman via her elaborate back tattoo.
Well, that’s what Jules thinks. The monk sets her straight, and lets her know that he knows what she is. Or was.
“Even if you can no longer see,” he lectures her, she has to know that “there is no evil, only ignorance.“
“Easy for YOU to say!”
“The Skeleton Crew’s” MO is to solicit video suggestions from online viewers, with Jules taking a look and deciding, by instinct or insight, which are legit enough to check out.
That’s how they come to the house of Martha and Ian (Malin Crépin and William Miller). They’re expats living abroad, and they’re not getting any sleep.
We know from the quick way Jules and then Matty decide that this couple isn’t REALLY being assaulted by spirits that any second now, they’re going to video record something that makes them change their minds.
Jules’ “Come to Jesus” moment hits when the lights black out — for only her — she hears voices no one else does and SOMEthing brushes up against her.
“I can’t HAVE them touching me,” she informs her producer, partner and lover-protector Matty.
That’s triggering, considering her past. But no matter. It makes good TV.
“Don’t Look at the Demon” is about most everybody in that house being assaulted in some way or other by a foul-mouthed English speaking demon who must have seen “The Exorcist,” who takes different human forms, and whom we’ve seen identified by its Thai name in an opening credit.
The jolts are pretty solid and measure up against most B-movie horror. But the story is kind of all over the place, giving “Demon” a slack, meandering quality. Dourif is a sturdy, committed presence at the center of the film, when director Brando Lee remembers it’s all about her. That comes in and out of focus and contributes to the feeling that one never gets a sense if Dourif — despite her many credits — is any good, or just a nepo baby cashing in on her surname’s horror bonafides.
The nature of the demon and how it is confronted is so trite you’d flunk a student film for trotting out the pentagram everything that goes with it.
But speaking of chalk, chalk this movie down as one where the spectacular, knock-you-backwards effects impress a whole lot more than the story, and a bit more than the good-not-great reactions to seeing the impossible from the cast.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Fiona Dourif, Jordan Belfi, Malin Crépin, Randy Wayne, Harris Dickinson, William Miller and Konglar Kanchanahoti
Credits: Directed by Brando Lee, scripted by Alfie Palermo. An Outsider release.
Running time: 1:36