Having premiered in Busan in 2018, and featuring an intriguing narrative filled with metaphors about movie making, “Demons” seemed like a unique film in theory, one of those productions that really stand out due to their originality. Unfortunately, Hui went a bit too far and at some point, and lost his control over the medium. Let us take things from the beginning though.
The inexperienced actress Vicki is given the opportunity to act in a new production by the renowned Singaporean director Daniel. However, her experience is anything but joyful, since the director soon proves to be a bully, with his behaviour becoming even worse as time passes, bordering on (psychological) torture. Vicki has the support of her brother, but eventually he also takes the side of the director, as so eloquently portrayed in the scene with the fish hat in their house. As time passes, the supernatural enters the narrative, as Vicki starts seeing a ghostly doppelganger who also bullies her and soon she succumbs to madness. After a fashion, the girl disappears completely and Daniel finds himself bullied, while the film takes a completely delirious turn that ends up in bloody cannibalism.
Daniel Hui directs a film that seems to have the purpose of criticizing the movie industry rather harshly. The occasionally exploitative behaviour of directors, particularly towards women, is one of the most central, although the fact that the director is revealed to be homosexual kind of confuses things regarding this comment. The fact that actresses in particular, have to endure such behaviors if they want to succeed is another one, and probably the most clear. The fact that Daniel eventually finds himself on the other side of bullying regarding the funding of his movie is another comment, although this one is also blurred by the permeating surrealism. The ending scene with the cannibalism seems to state that the film world can eat alive anyone who enters it, although again, this seems to be somewhat farfetched, at least in terms of presentation.
If the story and its comments are partially confusing, the presentation is where the spectator can truly lose the ball. Starting with the documentary-like close ups of the interview, and continuing with a number of surrealistic, psychological-thriller-like sequences, to some that border on exploitation and the finale that truly indulges in the extreme, the film looks like an experiment in filmmaking rather than a compact movie. In that fashion, Daniel Hui seems to have fallen to the most common trap for the directors transcending to feature films from shorts: trying to make a number of different ideas (different shorts if you prefer) into one movie, instead of a single narrative of more than 40 minutes.
The film is not completely bad, however, and as separate entities, the various different parts are quite interesting, particularly regarding Looi Wan Ping’s cinematography, who seems to be able to shoot whatever he wants, any way he wants, with equal artistry. Yang Yanxuan’s acting as Vicki is also good, particularly in the first part where she highlights her discomfort in laconic but very impressive fashion. Lastly, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr and Wuttipong Leetrakul’s music is quite fitting and memorable.
Daniel Hui seems to have potential, at least regarding the ideas he has about movies, but his command of the medium, particularly regarding feature-length filmmaking still needs much work. “Demons” has its moments, but as a whole, it simply does not work.