Monday, 1 June 2015

Demons Never Die

Director: Arjun Rose
Writer: Arjun Rose
Producers: Jo Podmore, Rhian Williams, Arjun Rose, Jason Maza
Cast: Tulisa off X-Factor, Reggie Yates off Radio 1, have you had enough yet?
Country: I’m ashamed to say, the UK
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: DVD
Website: www.facebook.com/DemonsNeverDie

Demons Never Die is absolute rubbish and gets worse the more you think about it. It was filmed as Suicide Kids but the title was changed at the last moment, allegedly because it couldn’t be said on radio and TV (possibly also because there was a 2009 American indie film called that). I’m guessing that there may also have been fears about what the media might do if any young person did top themselves after watching this movie, which could easily have happened. I certainly contemplated jumping out of a high window a few times. Of course the title change doesn’t alter the (for want of a better word) plot which is all about teenagers forming a suicide pact, so it wouldn’t have saved them anyway.

Actually, the title is the best thing here. Demons Never Die is a great title. Or at least it would be a great title for a horror film about, you know, demons. There is however nothing supernatural in this formulaic, lazy slasher - although a few red herrings point that way (for example, one character claims to have never seen another character’s constant companion). The ‘demons’ referred to in a clumsy voice-over near the start are of the metaphorical kind. I don’t know if that opening voice-over was added late in post-production, but the brief reprise at the end which finishes with the words “…and demons never die!” has so obviously been tacked on at the last moment that you can see the drawing pins.

This is a film about, and potentially for, Millennials (or “the Skins audience” as one of the sleeve quotes has it). It’s about a bunch of whining, self-important, self-obsessed teenagers who have nothing to worry about but like to complain anyway and feel the world owes them something just for getting out of bed. There isn’t a single likeable or empathetic character in the entire film. Why should anyone care what happens to these kids? These are characters who are so shallow (in both senses) that for most of them we only learn their names after they die.

At a sixth form college, the Principal announces that one of the students has killed herself, which is met with a startling lack of response from her disinterested peers. A couple of plain clothes policemen are there, one of whom warns the youngsters about the dangers of copycat suicides, something I’m sure would never happen in real life because the natural response of any troubled teen would be: “Well, I hadn’t really thought of topping myself, but now that you come to suggest it…”

Despite this warning, a second teenager also kills herself shortly afterwards, while attending some sort of never explained photoshoot, after recording an equally unexplained, random video diary saying she has bulimia. (There are frequent other random uses of video cameras throughout the script, to such an extent that I’m left wondering whether this was conceived as found footage in an earlier draft. There is also a single bizarre sequence when the characters all talk to each other via webcams, shown on screen as coloured blocks that look like a bad game of Tetris.) The bulimia remark is typical of the sort of brief, half-hearted infodumps which are intended to show that these teens have ‘demons’. Another one later in the film goes like this: “Why do you live in that squat?” “My dad kicked me out because I got a girl pregnant.” Seriously, a whole bunch of people thought this was a filmable script.

It transpires that both these girls (the first one’s ‘demon’ was apparently that she had split up with her boyfriend – Jesus, get over yourself!) were part of a suicide pact, along with eight other stereotypes (the stoner, the nutter, the fat kid, the sensitive Irish lad, the Token Black Guy…). Not one of these people shows any actual evidence of suicidal tendencies: there’s no nihilism, no punk attitude, not even any emo moping. They’re all just as bland and boring as most Millennial teenagers. What is wrong with the world? Sid Vicious and James Dean both died for your sins, and all you can do is text each other on your fucking Blackberries.

The remaining octet are mildly concerned that their two dead pals have jumped the gun on the whole 'suicide pact' thing, but we know that in fact they were murdered by a hooded psycho with a shiny metal mask. Almost immediately a major problem presents itself. Because among a veritable motorway pile-up of stupid and illogical plot points, the most fundamental is that this entire film relies on the police being unable to distinguish between self-inflicted stab wounds and wounds received during a frenzied knife attack. Frankly a child of ten would be able to tell the difference, but not these two clueless coppers. Mind, given that one of them is Ashley Walters from laughably shit rap combo So Solid Crew and the other is personality-free Radio 1 DJ Reggie Yates, it’s no real surprise that they don’t know the first thing about policing. Or anything. (Walters was also in Outcasts, Anuvahood and WAZ. Yates was also in Top of the Pops and Rastamouse.)

The third victim (Jennie Jacques: Truth or Dare, Cherry Tree Lane) is a tentative item with Sensitive Irish Lad (Robert Sheehan: Misfits, Nick Cage turkey Season of the Witch and Irish horror Ghostwood) so already marked as our Final Girl. She somehow evades the masked killer, but not everyone is convinced she saw someone because her mother has split personality syndrome (which the script is agonisingly careful to avoid calling schizophrenia) and she might have it too. Further bodies mount up, including a teacher and his wife/girlfriend. In the real world the school would be closed and a massive police operation would swing into place. But in the shoddily amateur writing of debutante film-maker Arjun Rose, everything carries on as normal. No-one seems perturbed by the spate of violent deaths or the threat of further killings, and the investigation remains limited to two coppers in one car.

The teacher, incidentally, is seen downing whiskey (possibly that’s his ‘demon’, though once again there’s neither context nor comment) and telling someone on the phone that he wants out of whatever they’re involved in. Out of what? Who was on the phone? Why is he drinking? Is he the killer, or involved with the killer? This is just one more random red herring that leads nowhere and means nothing, never either explained or justified. Maybe that actually is the killer on the phone, but if so what is the teacher’s involvement? We don’t know, and if Arjun Rose knows he’s too incompetent a writer to explain.

Some of the remaining, still alive youngsters decide that they maybe don’t want to commit suicide after all because… well, there’s no more reason for them to change their minds than to decide on hara-kiri in the first place. Rose has no concept of characterisation or motivation. It doesn’t help that some of the cast are shockingly wooden actors, but even talented performers couldn’t make this work. Remember Harrison Ford’s famous comment on the set of Star Wars? “You can write this stuff, George, but you sure as heck can’t say it.” Well, Arjun Rose can’t even write it.

It all culminates at a massive party in a huge house where dozens of vacuous teenagers drink and chatter and snog but the most actually rebellious thing they can manage is a game of Twister. The one psycho teen who organised the original pact (pointlessly shadowed everywhere by an acolyte with a video camera – see note above re. found footage origins) is now determined to murder everyone instead, using his dad’s gun. He’s played by Jason Maza (Rise of the Footsoldier, Ten Dead Men, Truth or Dare) who also produced this and a few other features (including BHR obscurity The Tapes). There’s a stultifyingly awful dialogue exchange where he explains to his camera-toting chum that this will make him a mass murderer, not a serial killer, complete with dictionary definitions of each. Added to an earlier exchange between Final Girl and Sensitive Irish Lad about character arcs, this overt textual analysis of horror film tropes within a horror film underlines that Rose has watched Scream and, well, that’s about it. He watched Scream and decided to copy it.

Rapper Cop and DJ Cop have been invited to the party because… plot. Not likely to compromise the investigation in any way, that. (This is a party, bear in mind, full of people who have lost several friends/associates to a violent serial killer and who are all potentially in danger themselves as students at the College of Death, yet are all too thick - or written by somebody too thick - to care.) The plain clothes cops now have, for some reason, police-branded jackets on. And fire-arms. Because yes, British police officers just habitually carry automatic pistols around with them when they’re out of uniform and attending a teenage party.

In the end [spoilers on] it turns out that the killer is one of the cops, which makes no more sense than anything else in the film. So let’s see: he murdered a random girl at a random school, somehow making it look like suicide. Then got assigned to that case. Then started attacking other spoilt-brat students, somehow working his way through the members of a secret pact of ‘suicide kids’ that he couldn’t possibly have known about. [spoilers off] Then, oh, my brain itches just trying to justify this. It can’t be justified. This is one of the worst, most insultingly stupid scripts ever filmed. First draft dialogue strung around a make-it-up-as-you-go-along story based on half-arsed ideas.

Arjun Rose is a former city trader who apparently decided he wanted to make films instead of shuffling money so roped in some of his rich friends to finance what is, in effect, a vanity project. Which is why the four executive producers include Idris Elba and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. I can accept TPT wanting in; she’s just a posh totty socialite brain donor who knows no more about films than she does about work. But Idris Elba, man! He should know the difference between a good script and a pile of ill-thought-out clich├ęs like this! He could be the black James Bond, for God’s sake! The other two ex.prods are Stephen Behrens (possibly the Morgan Stanley VP of that name) and Peter Delfgou, a former editor who now runs Soho Screening Rooms (not as naughty an establishment as it sounds!).

In interviews, Rose cited Donnie Darko as an influence on his script, and one can certainly see that, though only in the way that one can see Italian cuisine is an influence on a microwave lasagna. But here's something intriguing: I found another interview with Rose where he talked about having been inspired by an arty film called I Give You My Heart and it's clear from the description that he's actually talking about Tristan Versluis' 2008 short I Love You!

The cast - whose individual talents could be kindly described as 'varied' - is toplined by N-Dubz/X-Factor bimbo Tulisa Costacoffee, a piece of cynical stunt-casting mercifully killed off early on. Many of the real actors have worked with/for Noel Clarke in pictures like 4.3.2.1., Kidulthood and Adulthood. Among their notable credits: Jacob Anderson plays Grey Worm in Game of Thrones and was also in Comedown and Broadchurch; Emma Rigby was in Hollyoaks and Rentaghost spin-off Becoming Human; Andrew Ellis was in the various versions of This is England; Patrick Baladi played Dodi Al Fayed in a TV movie about Princess Diana; Jack Doolan was in May I Kill U?, The Facility and Cockneys vs Zombies; Nick Nevern was in The Tapes, Outpost: Black Sun and Strippers vs Werewolves; and Arnold Oceng used to be in Grange Hill. Most of the principle players - students and cops alike - were, not unexpectedly, in their twenties when they shot this. Hence the 'teenagers' look too old to be believable and the police look too young. Normally that would be a black mark but here it's the least of the film's worries.

Nathaniel Gleed, who has somehow previously played young versions of both Harry Hill and James May, plays a younger version of Sensitive Irish Lad in black and white flashbacks which, like everything else here, don’t make any sense. Rosalind Knight, whose career stretches all the way back to Carry On Nurse and Olivier’s Richard III, is in the cast apparently, but I don’t know where. And although I totally failed to spot her (probably because I wasn’t looking), comedy legend Morwenna Banks is in here somewhere too, probably as a teacher.

DP Toby Moore primarily works in television, shooting dramas such as Mr Selfridge and Law and Order UK (plus episodes of Torchwood and Young Dracula). Editor Tim Murrell cut Wake Wood, The Children, WAZ and The Day of the Triffids. Both put in fine work here which sadly can’t save the film itself from being crap on a stick. Likewise production designer Paul Burns (Piggy) and costume designer Robert Lever (Ra.One, The Tapes, Mirrormask). Possibly the only person who comes out of this shambles with anything to be genuinely proud of is Steadycam legend Roger Tooley whose work stands out on screen, especially in the title sequence as he moves around a lecture theatre. He’s not listed on the IMDB page and Rose managed to call him ‘Roger Avers’ in an interview.

Demons Never Die was shot over 18 days on a budget of £900,000. Rose called the film “real low budget” but just short of a million is obviously considerably more than most British horror films get and the results certainly don’t show up on screen. In fact, let’s just put that in context. Stag Hunt (almost entirely shot on location) cost £20,000. Blood and Carpet (packed with CGI post to remove 21st century background clutter) cost £3,000. Darkest Day and The House of Him cost £900 a pop. I’ve reviewed 15 new British horror features so far this year and only two might conceivably have had budgets anywhere near that of Demons Never Die. The total budgets of the other 13 films added together wouldn’t come to £900,000.

What the hell has Rose spent the money on? There are no big effects or action sequences, no costly locations, no expensive costumes or props, even the ‘gore effects’ are largely limited to throwing fake blood on fully clothed actors. For a man with a financial background, Arjun Rose (who was also one of four named producers) shows precious little evidence of how to manage money on a film production. He just knows how to raise money and then how to waste it, which I suppose is what you would expect from a city trader...

(Some sources cite a budget of '£90,000' so someone somewhere has either added or lost a zero, but even that is a hundred times what Rab Florence spent on The House of Him.)

Announced for a June 2011 cinema release under the original title, the film was promoted with a series of short-but-uninteresting videos in which various actor mates of Arjun Rose cited ‘3 reasons to live’. Retitled, the film was eventually released to theatres in late October - after a D-lister-packed West End premiere - and hit DVD the following February. I’m not aware of any festival play and frankly not surprised by that. The only other country where it seems to have been released so far is Turkey, for some reason.

Here’s the thing. It may seem like I have a problem with today’s young people, the so-called Millennials, the Skins audience. And indeed I do. But just because they’re boring and shallow, that’s no reason for people to make boring, shallow films about them. There has already been at least one perfectly good British horror film set within this generation of young people. Jon Wright’s terrific 2009 supernatural bully revenge saga Tormented is intelligent, well-crafted and even scary. So it’s not intrinsic that this sort of film is bound to suck. This is not a rubbish film because it’s about the youth of today. It’s a rubbish film and it’s about the youth of today.

It may be, as the quoted reviewer suggested, that 'the Skins audience' will indeed love it. I suppose we should draw a distinction between films about Millennials and films for Millennials. For someone with no imagination or perspective or ambition, who judges the quality of a film not on story or characters or evidence of creative talents but on how many people off the telly are in it, then maybe this picture is the business.

Speaking of things that suck, as we were, the film’s ghastly soundtrack (the licensing of which may account for quite a bit of that budget) is full of soulless, forgettable songs by soulless, forgettable artists like Jessie J, Chase and Status, Tinchie Stryder and Rizzle Kicks. If that’s your kind of music, then once again: you may enjoy this film.

Seriously? Jessie fucking J? What has become of the world?

MJS rating: D+

4 comments:

  1. Spot on analysis MJ of a piece of dreck. I actually moaned when It switches in to most haunted scary green lens mode at the end. I can tell you its an insult to young people when they suggest we are stoopid enough to overlook the gaping absence of any evidence of quality.

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  2. The films constant pathetic pandering to the "yoof" market recalls the "extreme" phase of american culture in the early noughties epitomized by XxX

    Paddie

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Paddie

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  3. So stupid,senseless and unequivocally dull

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