Teen suicide is, along with abortion, one of those real “hot potato” topics for filmmakers. How do you handle something like suicide while staying aware of the severity of the subject without glamourising it? Oh and then you have to make it entertaining.
Can’t be an easy proposition for any writer or director but writer/director Arjun Rose has had a stab at it with this, his first feature film Demons Never Die and despite a strong cast, the film never manages to be respectful to the underlying issue and generally fails as any kind of social commentary or as a horror film.
Originally titled Suicide Kids, it’s not difficult to see why the title was changed. The film plays like a sub-par British version of Scream but sorely lacks any kind of scares or atmosphere.
Set in London, the film revolves around a group of eight students who agree to a suicide pact following the death of their classmate, Amber. However, a masked killer has designs on ending their lives in a much more grisly fashion than they had planned. So as many of the group decide that a suicide pact might not be such a good idea after all, the killer is having no such crisis of conscience as the group are forced to fight for their lives against the faceless enemy.
It all sounds pretty by the numbers but it’s all very, very flimsily explained. Rose has tried to jam too much into the film and consequently, the whole experience is paper thin. Case in point, it is hinted that all 8 protagonists have endured their own private and social hardships but this is not explored in anywhere near enough detail to warrant their decision to end their own lives, particularly alongside the rest of the people in the group.
And my, my, what a cross section of “yoof” we have on display. Goths, “chavs”, softies, tough guys. All deciding to go down together? That this particular group of people would fraternise in any way shape or form, let alone die together, is absolutely unbelievable.
The cast are fairly impressive for the most part, given the sloppy script, though Misfits star Robert Sheehan actually manages to seem out of his depth, his acting seeming stilted. Jennie Jacques is great as Jasmine while Jason Maza is committed but absolutely insufferable as chavvy wide-o Kenny. Once again I found myself rooting for the demise of a character from the very first moment I saw and heard them. When his death does come, and it does, it’s an utterly squandered opportunity to see the end of this utter tool.
Reggie Yates (the voice of TV’s Rastamouse) and former So Solid Crew member Ashley “Asher D” Walters are on hand as the police officers called in to investigate the slayings. Both trudge mechanically through their unconvincing performances while Patrick Baladi (The Office) is among the most consistent and sympathetic, even given the brief duration of his role.
Speaking of brief appearances, let’s take a moment to talk about Tulisa Contostavlos. Better known simply as “Tulisa”, the N-Dubz crooner and X-Factor judge is also on board here. Her performance as Amber, though brief, is actually pretty good. She shows she has a few decent acting chops. It’s a pity she didn’t get more screen time to showcase them.
As a director, Rose manages to do the “street” stuff well but it all falls apart the moment it approaches horror territory. Rose has tried to fit in as many horror movie cliches as possible including a very ill-advised night vision sequence towards the end of the film, the explanation for which is sloppy in the extreme.
Then there is the “webcam” conversation scene. Oh my. 8 talking heads sharing the screen at the one time, their faces encased in garishly coloured boxes. They pop in and out, bickering, discussing their plans. Another ill-advised moment that draws us out of the film into an absolutely trivial scene filled with dialogue that is simply horrendous. The cynic in me believes it was simply an attempt at being “cool”, maybe I’m wrong.
So to the killer, a hockey-masked and hooded individual with a knife. The usual wrong turns and accusatory finger pointing are present as we attempt to uncover the identity of the killer. I absolutely GUARANTEE that not one among you will successfully identify the killer ahead of the “big reveal”, it comes that far out of left field. No attempt is made to explain the killer’s motive or back story, barring some cryptic voiceover work. I promise that you will be scratching your head and then sighing in disgust at the last, desperate scene, designed to leave the film open to a sequel.
Proof then, if it were needed, that a subject such as this should not be fodder for a slasher movie. It needs to be treated with respect, not poorly handled by a first time feature director wielding a thin, self-penned script that believes it has something to say. Sadly, any intended message is totally lost in the amateur execution.
Demons Never Die (15) will be released on DVD on February 20th via Exile Entertainment.