It isn’t perfect, but solid production values and a riveting performance from Fiona Dourif help elevate “Don’t Look at the Demon”.
Don’t Look At The Demon is a supernatural thriller from Malaysian director/ producer Brando Lee, who describes his approach to filmmaking as possessing ‘’a Yin and Yang,” adding, “I believe the world should have the good and the bad, both angels and evil beings.’’
Inspired by a true banned ritual and Lee’s own personal experiences, the story follows Medium and paranormal tv investigator Jules, played by horror favorite Fiona Dourif (Chucky, Tenet, The Blacklist, Shameless), who is plagued by unwanted visions which may allude to her own childhood trauma.
All we know of her trauma is depicted through flashbacks involving her and her sister as children.
Accompanying Jules is her investigative team and camera crew, led by her lover Matty (Jordan Belfi; Entourage), on-screen siblings Ben (Harris Dickinson; Where The Crawdads Sing, Triangle Of Sadness) and Wolf (Randy Wayne; Dukes Of Hazzard: The Beginning), along with local guide Annie (Thao Nhu Phan; Odd One In, Asian’s Next Top Model).
The television crew journey into the stunning Highlands of Malaysia to investigate the alleged disturbing hauntings in the home of a married couple.
The home’s newest owners, married couple Ian (William Miller; The 100, Warrior Nun) and Martha (Malin Crepin; In Your Veins), have been plagued by strange occurrences and have sought help from Jules and her investigative crew.
At first, Jules’ team suspects that the couple may simply be attention-seeking. But when Jules experiences a violative, supernatural experience in the bowels of the home, the crew realizes they are in the presence of something more powerful than any of them have ever encountered.
Fiona Dourif is a force of nature in this movie.
She performs with her entire body, contorting, twisting, and throwing herself around in bursts of frenetic energy.
Jules truly is a damaged soul, and her pain is a beacon that attracts troubled spirits whilst her living cohorts are less keen to remain close to her. Her gift truly is a curse, further isolating her from the people she cares about.
Martha is experiencing her own disturbing spiritual attack. Luckily, she has the support of her husband, and this anchors her in the living realm. Jules and her team agree to stay in the couple’s home to monitor the escalating Poltergeist activity.
Tension is mounting amongst the crew; the brothers voice their concerns over not getting paid, and there is a growing distance between Jules and Matty.
This unrest feeds the growing spiritual disturbances within the house. Personally, this tension felt a little unbalanced. How the characters treat one another is so utterly devoid of empathy that their interactions appear unrealistic considering the personal connections they apparently share.
The juxtaposition of seeing people who seemingly share deep, emotional attachments treating one another so coldly felt odd to me. Unfortunately, this severed my own emotional investment in these characters at an early stage.
The actors all perform well, and Dourif is incredibly engaging. However, I feel that the script was a little anorexic compared to the deep ideas it tries to convey.
Despite its flaws, the production is far richer than other efforts in the supernatural and possession genres.
This is a well-polished film. The camera work is very fluid, the set designs feel lived in, and the sound quality is crisp.
Stylistically, the film weaponizes dull earthy tones and shadows; this enriches the atmosphere of things barely glimpsed out the corner of one’s eye.
The creative use of mirrors and light in a particularly effective scene adds to the undercurrent of Claustrophobia that permeates the film’s ambiance. The use of surveillance cameras to depict supernatural happenings and scenes lends a believable, documentarian air to the production — immersing the viewer into this foreign land of ancient magic and deep-rooted belief systems.
The first truly Demonic scene is convincing, well-acted, and suitably jarring — if a little derivative of bigger budget films such as The Exorcist and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose.
Jules’ skin-crawling description of her first encounter with a Daemon, ‘’He ate her soul and made me watch,’’ perfectly encapsulates the idea of Trauma transcending physical realms and staining the souls of all those who experience it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the depictions of the movie’s ‘’banned ritual’’ involving a Buddhist Monk performing a protective spell in the form of religious bamboo tattooing, as well as the Western Occult aesthetics of Pentagrams and candlelight.
Don’t Look At The Demon’s direction reflects the asymmetry of Lee’s deep-rooted Malaysian spiritual beliefs spliced with Hollywood’s cliched Horror tropes.
Lee describes himself as having grown up on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur whilst consuming Hollywood genre films like Jaws and The Exorcist. He even includes an easter egg to The Shining during a key exposition scene.
This truly is a fusion film, and the director utilizes both Malaysian and white actors and their different cultures to portray his own vision of Horror. His love for Western cinema and his understanding of emotional and metaphysical Trauma summons a fresh, unique spin on the genre.
As mentioned above, Lee seeks to explore the union of good and evil, and his film indeed encompasses light and dark elements. However, his underlying themes lean heavily into dark aesthetics, and the story often struggles to balance strong depictions of good alongside evil.
Finally, despite its otherwise impressive production values, the sound for this film is overwhelming. Possessed characters scream bloody murder into a mic for three minutes at a time to depict scenes of possession. Perhaps it is just my Misophonia influencing my enjoyment. However, I found the chronic screaming to be obnoxious and off-putting.
But if you can tolerate the eardrum-splitting soundscape, you may appreciate Don’t Look At The Demon‘s hybrid influences. It’s a film that asks you to forsake all you know of the living realm and dares you not to look away.