Friday, October 07, 2022

Don’t Look at the Demon, from Malaysia

In horror movies, you scoff at secretive, long-practiced rites at your own peril. That is especially true of protective rituals, because chances are, you will need them later. This small reality TV crew on-location in Malaysia certainly will. There is something profoundly evil terrorizing the house they are about to investigate in Brando Lee’s Don’t Look at the Demon, which opens in today in theaters nationwide.

Jules wants to cancel the painful tattooing ceremony her
Skeleton Crew team are filming, but the Thai Buddhist Monk basically tells her to cowboy-up, since she is an American. Besides, he knows she has the “gift,” so her mind she be more open to such phenomenon.

Jules uses that sensitivity he detected to select their next case. Expat couple Ian and Martha Benchley are convinced they are being tormented by poltergeists in the fashionable Fraser Hill manor, but initially, Jules cannot pick up on anything. Just when they are about to dismiss the Benchleys as attention-seeking cranks, something big and uncanny shocks them out of their dismissiveness. This case is genuine and it will be extremely dangerous.

We get the usual reality horror ritual of setting up cameras around the house, but the
Skeleton Crew crew is in way over the head. Quickly realizing the danger, Jules turns to the old monk for help. However, the baggage she carries from her own childhood encounter with the demonic makes her especially vulnerable to the entity threatening the Benchleys.

Don’t Look at the Demon is the first Malaysian-produced film to get a reasonably commercial theatrical distribution in America, beyond a few art-houses. Initially, it seems relatively conventional, even though Lee’s execution is tense and atmospheric, right from the start. However, the more it delves into local ritual and lore, the feeling of dread also deepens and intensifies. In many ways, Demon compares very directly to Banjong Pisanthanakun The Medium, but it is more accessible for general audiences—and not merely due to the predominantly Western cast.

In fact, the film’s standout is arguably Konglar Kanchanahoti, as the mysterious Thai monk. He definitely has a Vithaya Pansringarm (from
Only God Forgives) vibe going on, which is cool. Fiona Dourif and Jordan Belfi are both solid as Jules and her producer-lover Matty, but their characters are largely predictable. However, Annie the translator, nicely portrayed by Phan Nhu Thao, offers a few surprises that really distinguish the film from its thematically similar competition. Plus, there is a creepy scene with a bartender (Hafidzuddin bin Fazil, for the record) that evokes memories of an all-time horror classic, in the right kind of way.

Most ticket-buyers who flocked to
Smile last week would enjoy Demon now. It joins a growing list of horror movies whose titles represent some excellent advice. It is not quite as undeniably advisable as Don’t F*** in the Woods, but Don’t Look at the Demon still sounds prudent. Regardless, it is legit scary, for the same reason Catholic and Shamanic horror is almost always so unsettling. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of demonic horror, Don’t Look at the Demon opens today (10/7) at the Regal Essex Crossing.