Elegiac…mysterious…enrapturing. There are a lot of adjectives you could toss at Caleb Slain’s Demon, none of which feel successful in properly representing it. It’s a tough film to describe. It’s also a film, that, on first blush, might even seem self indulgent. There’s the perfectly executed long takes, the 20+ minute run time, the flowery, stylized language, the slavish adherence to self imposed criteria (in this case, shooting entirely via the light of a full moon). But, when you’re as talented as Slain (a multiple alum of the site), you’re allowed some auteur-esque quirks. Demon, despite its length, is a gripping chamber play drama backed by an unrelenting sense of supernatural unease. It’s gripping from start to finish.
In a loose sense, the film is a horror movie (and thus appropriate for Halloween programming). But, as a one-act play, it’s predicated more on a character-work than outright scares. The tension comes from trying to deduce the interior mindset of the three characters: who’s lying? Who’s hiding something? What do any of them actually want? It’s a compelling battle of wits. We watch the balance of power see-saw back and forth. I mentioned the film’s flowery language, and it’s just hard not to notice how gifted Slain is with crafting unique sounding dialogue. It’s stylized to be sure—characters talk like they belong to a different time—but it, somehow, works. Turns of phrase are clever, and there is an overall cadence to the delivery that’s just fun to listen to. Slain is especially good at implementing repetition. It’s practically lyrical—Tarantino-esque, elaborate exchanges are as satisfying as action set pieces.
But, of course, the “hook” here comes via Demon’s unconventional visual approach. First, there’s the long takes. Slain, who contributed to the terrific Takeaway scenes project, is no stranger to using elaborate “oners” as part of his cinematic arsenal. But, he amps up the difficulty here, by choosing to shoot in the middle of desert…at night…with no auxiliary lighting. A full moon becomes the primary blue source (something that is often faked in most standard film shoots), and this creates a lovely contrast with the warm fire and lamp light. It’s a beautiful palette of blues and oranges—the kind of thing that cinematographers try slavishly to recreate via artificial means. Yet, Slain and his team got mother nature to provide it for free. But, as with all things, there was a cost…
I’m of the opinion that the story behind a film doesn’t make for a good film. After all, only what makes it on screen, ultimately, matters. But, still, it’s hard not to admire the sheer complexity and audacity of what was attempted here. The challenges, both personal and natural, that Slain and his team encountered when making the film were intense. We highly recommend you check out the film’s website if you’re interested in a full play by play of all the trials and tribulations they were subjected to.
So, was all the hard work worth it? As they say, the proof is in the pudding. The choice to shoot it in such an unconventional way really does give Demon a unique feel. As curators, we’re awash in pretty Alexa and RED cinematography, so, when something stands out, we do take notice.
As you’d expect, Slain is hard at work on future projects, including a feature adaptation of Demon. Let’s just hope that if the feature happens, it’s less taxing on him physically. As film fans, we’re banking on him having a long and fruitful career.