‘E-Demon’ (2018)

❉ ‘E-Demon’ is an example of the screenlife genre, which picks up where found footage left off. But is it any good?

The screenlife genre, where the entire narrative of the film plays out on a computer screen, has only been around for a couple of years. As far as I can tell the earliest example of screenlife could be found in the 2012 anthology V/H/S with Joe Swanberg’s entry ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’, a tale of a haunted girl that takes place over a Skype call. It was a standout entry in the film which consisted mainly of found footage, a genre that was already on its knees, due in no small part to an oversaturation of the Paranormal Activity franchise and the countless numbers of direct to-DVD titles that took advantage of the genre’s cheap production costs (eg, Paranormal Entity, Grave Encounters, Paranormal Sex Tape, etc.)

Now screenlife seems poised to pick up where found footage left off. This sub-genre got a real kick start with the surprisingly decent Unfriended, Levan Gabriadze’s tale of a vengeful cyberghost gaining revenge on a group of teenagers during a group video chat. This, and its recent sequel Unfriended: Dark Web, made smart use of the laptop screen in quickly and smartly conveying information about the story over several open video windows, direct messaging and also managed to elicit a surprising amount of tension onscreen. Unfortunately, with E-Demon, the genre has now fallen victim to cheap inferior knock-offs that have little to no understanding of how the genre works and will no doubt plague DVD shelves and streaming libraries over the next few years. Say this for E-Demon, at least it got in there early and can be forgotten about sooner rather than later.

E-Demon attempts to tell the story of the infamous “Quad Murders”, a bunch of murders that took place over one night across America involving four college graduate friends. What we see is an online recording of what actually transpired, brought to us by a masked figure, a spokesman for a resistance against some supernatural force that was actually responsible. That said friends come across as an entirely unsympathetic crew with nothing interesting or natural about them is one huge black mark against the film that immediately cancels out any goodwill from the viewer but writer and director Jeremy Wechter doubles down on the mediocrity with a truly lazy script that makes up its own rules as it goes along and a visual style that comes across as laughably inept.

I wish I was kidding but the actual cause of the demonic chaos that ensues is “a cursed chest” that contains the cheapest looking set of “magical” props that look as if they were purchased at the nearest discount store last Halloween. When Mar, Ryan Redebaugh, goes against his Russian grandmother’s warning, for nothing more than a laugh with his online chums, and reads an entry from a journal a plague of online demonic possession is unleashed. Thanks to the inclusion of camera headsets the usual found footage clichés are also trotted out here as the director has no idea how to sustain the drama on the laptop screen. On more than one occasion all four characters disappear from the screen and absolutely nothing happens! Nothing at all! Another example of this amateur nonsense is when the characters are talking amongst themselves, trying to figure out the gossamer-thin plot and Kendra, Julia Deidrick (how many years of drama school did it take to get to this, you poor woman?), starts to sketch a parrot for her book cover. If E-Demon will be remembered, by the dozens of people who will no doubt see it, it will be for its dull visual cascade of empty rooms, a poorly sketched parrot and an old man getting tugged off.

A film then that fails on every single level. It takes an age to get going, fails to understand and use the visual devices of its storytelling and as a horror it fails to deliver any scares, shocks or gore. One scene where a character comes under attack from his young children is a comedic high point, not the director’s intention I’m sure. If you want some laptop-based chills and thrills, just get hammered and go on Chatroulette or whatever it’s called. You will probably find something much more disturbing sights on there than you would here.

Jeremy Wechter’s e-Demon screens in Los Angeles from September 14 (Downtown Independent) and in New York from September 21 (Cinema Village). Available On Demand 9/14. Distributor: Dark Cuts.

❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.

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