Friday, August 23, 2019

Classic Movie Review: The Demons (2015)

The Demons (2015)
Directed by: Philippe Lesage.
Written by: Philippe Lesage.
Starring: Edouard Tremblay-Grenier (Felix), Pier-Luc Funk (Ben), Vassili Schneider (Francois), Sarah Motter (Emmanuelle), Laurent Lucas (Marc), Pascale Bussieres (Claire), Victoria Diamond (Rebecca), Yannick Gobeil-Dugas (Mathieu), Alfred Poirier (Alexandre), Mathis Thomas (Patrick), Theodore Pellerin (David), Benedicte Decary (Nicole), Rose-Marie Perreault (Stephanie), Milya Corbeil-Gauvreau (Sophie), Jean-Luc Terriault (Max), Samuel Hurtubise (Samuel), Philippe Lesage (Professeur), Samuel Desjardins (Denis Morissette).
Childhood can be a terrifying time for many kids – kids who feel out-of-place and uneasy everywhere. They only half understand the adult world which this witness through their parents, which both fascinates and scares them. They only half understand themselves – their own feelings, which often can be confusing to them – which just adds to that unease. Just getting through the days can be scary – and that’s just in your own mind, your own skin. What of the dangers that lurk outside in the world?
Few films have captured this unease as brilliantly as Philippe Lesage’s remarkable debut feature The Demons. When the film came out in 2015, it was mostly slept on outside of Festival audiences, and its native Quebec – even I barely heard of it here in Ontario, and I missed it and didn’t give it much attention until I caught up with Lesage’s equally remarkable follow-up Genesis, which reveals itself to be a quasi-sequel to The Demons only in the last 30 minutes of its runtime (it stands on its own, even if you haven’t seen this film). Now having seen them both, I can say that Genesis feels like a step forward for Lesage – moving more towards his own style more than The Demons – which does have its own style, but is more obviously inspired by Michael Haneke than Genesis was. But as a film unto itself, I think The Demons is even better.
The film focuses – at least in its first half – on Felix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier), who is about 10 years old, and confused and scared about just about everything. His parents marriage is falling apart – he witnesses a terrifying fight between his parents, and even his older siblings get involved, just trying to calm everything down. A different type of confusion comes from his feelings for Rebecca (Victoria Diamond) – his swim teacher, from whom he has a crush on, but doesn’t have the words to express it, or the emotional maturity to understand it. The further complicate his budding sexuality, he thinks he may be gay – which leads, after a school project by another girl, to worry that he has AIDS. He also listens to his older brother and his friends – which adds to the fear and confusion – their casual homophobic remarks make Felix sink deeper into his own confused sexual awakening, keeping it to himself – and their talk about a series of kidnappings of young boys like himself scare him even though he cannot be sure if he’s listening to urban legend, or reality. His older siblings are supportive – but realtively clueless to really help him.
For the first hour, Lesage masterfully builds the tension – quietly, subtly. Much of the action is centered at the local pool where Felix swims with his friends. That pool represents so much – from freedom and fun, to his confused sexuality, and even cruelty. Wanting to fit in with another friend, he locks the smaller, weaker Alexandre – a boy we’ve already seen Felix take advantage of in exploring his possible homosexuality (in the way 10-years old can do) – into a locker and won’t let him out. It’s at the pool where we also first meet Ben (Pier-Luc Funk) – who will become the focus for much of the second half of the movie. Ben is a fun and personable guy – in his late teens probably – and the kids at the pool like him. We start to have suspicions about him though when he finds a discarded pair of boys underwear – and doesn’t do with them what we think he should. Ben is the focus on the at times nearly impossible to watch (but equally impossible to turn away from) second half – when Felix’s childhood fears are proven to be real – even if he doesn’t know it.
The Demons is a masterfully directed film – it builds the tension slowly, with long, interrupted takes, and slow zooms to reveal what we’re looking at. It’s the type of film where some people will complain that nothing happens – that they are bored by it – and others will be transfixed from its opening to its close. Other may well be turned off by the turn at the halfway mark of the film – that really is difficult to watch, even if it’s never explotive. But for those who get on its wavelength, The Demons is a masterful film – one of the best, and certainly one of the most underrated, debut films of the decade.

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