Thursday, June 18, 2015

Demon – review

Director: Mark Duffield

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

When is a vampire film not a vampire film? Perhaps when the V word is not used, when there is a direct statement of identity – demon… incubus… these are both used. However the incubus myth is related to the succubus myth (obviously) and, as we know, the succubus myth and vampire myth have much in the way of crossover.

This would perhaps lead us to explore a film under “Vamp or Not?” but, to be honest, this film so readily uses vampire tropes that it wasn’t worth framing this article in that sense. It is – whether the film recognises it itself – a vampire film. It is also a low budget period piece, with some very clever tricks to capture that period within the budget. At heart, however, it is a tragic love story, a gothic romance that still has some gore but is not a horror film.

Andrew Mullan as Lorcan
So we begin with a voiceover offering the baseline mythology. It talks of the incubus, of its nightly visitations to women and how it would return to devour the soul of the infant born of those visits. However should the infant live then it would be cursed and should it love or be loved the child of the incubus would transform into a demon itself. I should mention the soundtrack at this point, lush orchestral scoring was reminiscent in part to the soundtracks utilised by classic Hammer.

Clare Langford as Amy
Through the credits we see bloody scenes from a hospital and a man, Lorcan (Andrew Mullan), arriving. The nurse at the desk is Nurse Amy Harper (Clare Langford) but before he can ask for help his bags are brought in and the Matron (Jackie Haliday) takes control having Amy show Lorcan to Dr Edward (Tom Hall) whilst his bags are taken to his room (involving a slyly romantic-comedic moment with Amy and Lorcan on the stairs and his hat). When he meets Edward we discover that Lorcan’s uncle had written to the doctor some 6 months before but died in the intervening period. Lorcan was brought up by his uncle (in Ireland) and it is hoped that Edward’s revolutionary work with blood transfusions can help the young man. He passes Edward some papers his Uncle had wanted to pass on but they are in a language the doctor doesn’t recognise and illustrated with demonic forms.

dream of sunlight
The relationship between Amy and Lorcan quickly blossoms. When in his room together, we see a sequence where they kiss. It is a daydream rather than reality and the film is deliberately obtuse over whose daydream it is, hers or his. We see a moment, on waking, where sunlight streaming through the window causes Lorcan’s arms to bleed profusely. He awakens and discovers that, whilst a dream the sun is indeed having such an effect on his skin. We also notice that he has lost his moustache.

outside the church
Following this Amy comes to his room and he has blocked the window with his coat. She moves this but the sun has gone in. She accidentally cuts her finger and he sucks at the blood – then passes out. He is sent to the general ward but soon claims to be feeling better. He and Amy go for a walk and she takes him to a nearby church. He leaves rather abruptly, saying that the air is stifling. A reaction to holy icons and hallowed ground is understandable – given his demonic heritage, but also fits with general vampire tropes. It is interesting that the filmmakers decided to make it oppressive only, and not more dramatic.

Christopher Ettridge as Darkwood
Also involved in looking to diagnose Lorcan and then provide a cure is Edward’s mentor Professor Darkwood (Christopher Ettridge). He announces porphyria as he enters the room. Of course the folkloric link between vampirism and porphyria has been debunked thoroughly, however the media link once established is always there. Darkwood mentions that transfusions are not so much a new technique but safer – and blood types are mentioned. This might guide us towards dating the film. On the hospital general ward there is a picture of Queen Victoria – she died in January 1901, so it would seem that this is in a late Victorian period. Blood types were first discovered in 1901 (with the discovery of Hemagglutination occurring in 1900), so one must guess the film to be set in 1900/1901.

reaching the heights of love
It seems that Lorcan has an unknown blood type but it transfuses with other types without a problem. Soon he is taking blood through ingestion as well as transfusion and Amy actively helps him with this. Following them making love – which involves some levitation and sprouting of wings, as well as him biting Amy – he fully transforms. He loses body hair, his ear take on a pointed shape, he can develop talons and sharp teeth with prominent front fangs. All in all he looks very much like Nosferatu (especially when in his suit with top hat, not that Orlock wore a top hat). It is suggested that he is a carrier of a virulent plague – again much like Orlock – indeed the big difference between the two is in the wings. That said, wings had been a part of the vampire genre going back into the 19th century – famously Alexandre Dumas, père gave Ruthven wings in his 1851 play the Return of Lord Ruthven.

in the sun
Darkwood has the manuscripts translated and gives us the stages of Lorcan’s transformation (though Lorcan was drinking blood earlier than the order given) and also gives us the killing method, which is only listed as sunlight. I did like the way that the sunlight made the incubus bleed to death, though fire was also involved. There was a use of hypnosis, from the doctors to hypnotise the victim to confirm what was happening.

bite marks
The acting was very good, especially from the two main parties who were understated rather than over the top, adding a subtlety to the proceedings. I was also rather taken with Andrew Cunningham in his role of Rook – a hospital worker with a criminal streak. Even more impressive was the clever way Mark Duffield used sets. Never at any point where we jolted from the idea that we were in late Victorian London and a trip around the sights cemented that feel and gave the illusion of a much bigger collection of sets than there actually were. Judicious camera angles were used to show London without allowing the modern in.

If I had a complaint it is in the fact that I felt that the film dragged a little bit towards the end. Given the fact that the film aimed for a gothic romance feel more than horror it didn’t need to hurry the pace, per se, but it perhaps could have shaved a tad away from the final act. A minor complaint, however, for a film about a demon that really was about a vampire and, I’d say, one of genus Nosferatu as much as being an incubus. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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