Neill Blomkamp spent his lockdown making a horror movie just to prove he could

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | August 26, 2021

Tuesday 31 (VOD)

Before the Covid vaccine became available, some filmmakers chose to navigate uncharted waters to remain productive. South African/Canadian auteur Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) gathered some frequent collaborators (Carly Pope, Terry Chen, producer Mike Blomkamp, his brother) and shot Demonic in the Okanagan last summer.

A lot of people talk about finding a silver lining in this miserable pandemic cloud. But not Blomkamp. He saw no positives in shooting during Covid. Not one. “Not on a single level,” he says, firmly.

Demonic is a twist on traditional demonic possession scenarios. It follows Carly (Pope) as she comes to terms with her mother re-entering her life. Twenty years before, mommy dearest went on an inexplicable killing spree that landed her in jail. She’s in a coma and at death’s door, but Carly has a unique chance to say goodbye by entering her mother’s psyche.

Then she realizes there’s a presence in mom’s head and the scientists behind this opportunity have an agenda that has nothing to do with altruism. Secret ops Catholic priests, madness and paganism ensue, coming together in a smorgasbord of nightmarish visuals — easily the film’s best feature.

Not one to waste an opportunity to push technological boundaries, Neill Blomkamp shot the sequences inside Carly’s mom’s head using volumetric capture, a 260-camera-grid setup that records subjects as in 3-D video. The result is otherworldly, if not something you can expect to see often in the future. “It would have to be written into a film in a way that you can justify how glitchy it is,” says Blomkamp. “Maybe a sequel.”

The characters in Demonic frequently share the name of the actors portraying them. More than an artistic decision, it was a by-product of Blomkamp’s approach to moviemaking during Covid.

“The movie was reverse-engineered out of puzzle pieces that we had access to,” says Blomkamp. “I wrote the names of a bunch of actors I had worked with and wrote [the script] around them. The film is strange that way. It emerged of a particular time and circumstances.”

Back To Elysium

Eight years ago, Blomkamp’s Elysium was accused of being bogged down by ideology (the rich escape to a suborbital heaven while the rest of humanity is stuck in a rapidly decaying planet).

It’s not lost on the filmmaker that the 2013 film Elysium has returned to the zeitgeist following billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos’ trips to the edge of space.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” says Blomkamp about the film’s sudden relevance. “The metaphor holds true: there will be more of a separation in stratification of wealth. We’re heading into a future of gated communities on steroids.”

Blomkamp is philosophical about the mixed reception of Elysium and Chappie following his District 9 slam dunk. “Whatever people drew from the films is up to them,” he says. “They can come to any conclusion that they want. It isn’t my place to tell them. What else can you do, besides making stuff?”

Even though all four of his films — District 9, Elysium, Chappie and Demonic — are original, Blomkamp isn’t militant about working only on his own material. “In the case of Demonic [which he wrote, produced and directed], I just wanted the challenge of going out and shooting something. It’s not in any way that I wouldn’t work with studios.”

What’s next? Of the many projects Blomkamp has been linked to (the Alien sequel that wasn’t, a District 9 follow-up), the sci-fi Inferno — which pits Taylor Kitsch against a humanoid beast — is still on deck. “It’s being worked on, but I may do something else first”, says the director.

He wouldn’t elaborate, so we’ll just have to wait and see to what dark future Blomkamp takes us next.