Don't Look at the Demon

Don't Look at the Demon

2022, NR, 96 min. Directed by Brando Lee. Starring Fiona Dourif, Harris Dickinson, Jordan Belfi, Malin Crépin, Randy Wayne.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Oct. 7, 2022

With the explosion of international horror over the past two decades, audiences have their ears perked for new titles from emerging film industries. Don’t Look at the Demon, the latest film from Brando Lee, has been billed as the first Malaysian film to be screened in the United States – at least outside of the festival scene – and horror fans will find a lot to like in this modern haunting story.

Since she was a child, Jules (Dourif, always a gifted physical actress) has had a gift: She can see and observe the spirits of the dead. These days, Jules uses her gift as the host of The Skeleton Crew, a television series that takes her team to haunted landmarks worldwide. But when a user email brings the group to Fraser’s Hill in Malaysia, they initially believe that their wealthy client is playing an elaborate hoax. But before long, the Skeleton Crew learns that they may be witnessing the most severe haunting of their careers.

Despite the found-footage-style setup, Don’t Look at the Demon follows more in the footsteps of contemporary horror filmmakers like James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring). With a few exceptions, the action in the film is held indoors, and the modern architecture – the house was built in the 1970s, a fact the characters point out upon entering – ensures that Western audiences will not conflate the Malaysian setting with being provincial or exotic. This is a horror film set in a modern, upper-class establishment with a predominantly white cast – in other words, a film designed to be accessible to Western audiences without bartering in ignorance.

Lee explores various horror methods in his film, from the surveillance footage of the Skeleton Crew to more traditional and gothic haunting sequences. To his credit, Lee also shoots several action sequences in broad daylight, pulling characters through open doorways or down flights of stairs and trusting the creature design and performance to sell the immersion. It’s an intelligent choice – too many filmmakers resign their scares to the murky depths of mediocre lighting – but when Don’t Look at the Demon pulls the curtain back on its monsters, we can enjoy the work that went into creating the hauntings.

And while these possession sequences are worth the price of admission, they also indicate the minor issues that plague the rest of the film. It may have shocked audiences in 1973 that Regan MacNeil spat profanities from her bed, but a good possession these days is determined as much by the dialogue as the creature’s design. When the demon takes over the members of the Skeleton Crew, they shriek and curse at the other survivors. It’s the expected choice, but not the interesting one – a description that applies to many different character choices throughout the film.

Working from a playbook cobbled together from other franchises – The Exorcist and The Evil Dead most prominent among them – Lee’s film can genuinely rip when the prosthetics and wirework take center stage. And that makes Don’t Look at the Demon a not-terrible choice for audiences searching for a new release to complement their annual rewatches. In an impressive year for horror, it may sit somewhere in the middle of the pack – but hell, there are worse reasons to see a movie than solid possessions and Fiona Dourif.

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Don't Look at the Demon, Brando Lee, Fiona Dourif, Harris Dickinson, Jordan Belfi, Malin Crépin, Randy Wayne

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