This review of Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover is part of the New French Extremity Retrospective series.
The premise of Olivier Assayas’ 2002 film Demonlover sounds like that of a sleazy exploitation film: business suits battle over the corporate control of violent online pornography, some animated and some far too real. It is a similar premise to the 2008 American thriller Untraceable. One could call Gregory Hoblit’s film a remake if the cold-hearted white collar types where replaced with agents of the law.
But Demonlover is much more fascinating without the white hat of the law. In the film, the law is so far removed that it feels as though these executives could do whatever they needed to get what they want. Through this, Assayas weaves a world of deceit that is engaging, if not slow to the punch.
The film hides this deliberate pacing with an editing style that is more frantic, at times raising questions of spatial and temporal awareness. While purposeful, the pace and edit don’t sync up naturally. The editing wants to make you feel uncomfortable, even before the narrative becomes uncomfortable for the character we are following (to call her a protagonist is questionable. To call anyone in the film a protagonist is).
Not that the lack of morality is problematic. In fact, it is seemingly the whole point. The game is to see who is the most deceitful, as it appears as though that person will be the victor. And yet, the characters are dulled somewhat by their utter lack of morality. No one ever seems to question their actions. No one struggles beyond the increasing stakes of the corporate quibble. No one struggles as a character, but merely as nodes in a chain of seedy events.
Demonlover, needless to say, is a cold movie. Acting performances from Connie Nielsen and Gina Gershon work in spite of this, but their characters remain ones that we follow to no lasting payoff. We are only aligned with Nielsen’s character in so much as the narrative is shown through her eyes.
Emotionally, we are aligned with no one. We are outside observers looking into this cold, cruel world. Not unlike the viewers of the film’s snuff film website “The Hell Fire Club.” Again, this is the point. I guess.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)