Demonlover Blu-ray Review
Cronenberg's Videodrome, for the Internet Generation
Demonlover Film Review
Olivier Assayas' prescient commentary on the dark side of the internet brutally updates David Cronenberg's Videodrome.French auteur Olivier Assayas has frequently enjoyed gleefully blurring the lines between illusion and reality, or, more often than not, sideswiping the viewer with regard to their expectations: protagonists become antagonists; villains become victims, with Assayas teaching his lessons on coldly commercial ruthlessness across topics from underworld violence to Hollywood power plays to business deals.
Demonlover effortlessly blends vicious business power plays between vying conglomerates and their equally ruthless staff, and surprisingly brutal bouts of at-all-costs corporate espionage from within these organisations, with an uncompromising commentary upon modern society's desensitisation towards violence. It likely accomplishes at least some of what Nicholas Winding Refn sought to accomplish in his recent Amazon TV show Too Old to Die Young (namely repeatedly messing with your expectations) in a tenth of the runtime, but - as a result - still makes for a dark, disturbing and suitably unpleasant watch, with Assayas teaching his lessons the hard way.
A dark, disturbing and suitably unpleasant watch
The story follows Connie Nielsen's Diane, an ambitious executive who is also a corporate spy working for her company's main competitor during a multi-million dollar deal involving the rights to the productions of a studio who make Hentai, and who may or may not be running an illicit, interactive, torture website as well. Diane's increasingly extreme actions to take down her targets are dealt out without compunction, with Diane seemingly impervious to being in the least bit affected by the violence or sexual violence she sees as part of her job(s), even when the corrupt universe in which she is playing starts to suffocate her and threaten to turn her from dominant power-player to submissive victim.
Assayas does not make films that are particularly easy to watch, coldly plotting out his opening act with clinical precision - introducing you to a world where sex and violence in the extreme are largely disregarded by a fast-moving collection of corporate psychopaths, who treat each others' lives as commodities too. By running at an almost emotionless level, twists in the second and - in particular - third act complete blindside, with Assayas somewhat enjoying how he has dismantled your expectations so effectively.
Nielsen (who, despite prominence in Gladiator, appears to have gone frequently underacknowledged in Hollywood, recently back on the Big Screen in the Wonder Woman films) is excellent - impressing even moreso with her effortless drift between French and English - and she does a tremendous job conveying so much often with little more than a look in her eyes; playing an ostensibly despicable character who, as the protagonist, still has to somehow win us over. Or does she? With support from Chloe Sevigny (American Psycho) and Gina Gershon (Bound), Assayas plays with ideas of female empowerment too, delivering a scathing study on the extreme edge of the internet, and indeed the extremes of corporate greed and culture, as well as the consumer's ability to coldly distance the questionable source (here involving torture porn) from the visceral entertainment value that they so desire. It's a very effectively unpleasant companion-piece to Cronenberg's earlier Videodrome, and still has relevance almost 20 years further into the Internet Age, making you wonder just how prescient Assayas was back in 2002.
Demonlover Blu-ray PictureArrow afford quite an auspicious UK Blu-ray bow for Assayas' Demonlover, delivering it with a 2K restoration in its longer Director's Cut format, promoted with a strong and faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen. Hardly ever likely to make for demo material, Demonlover has likely never looked better and, largely due to technical limitations, almost certainly never will.
Hardly ever likely to make for demo material, Demonlover has likely never looked better and, largely due to technical limitations, almost certainly never will
Demonlover was shot using a variety of different cameras to deliver a specific visual aesthetic - with 16mm frequently on hand to afford a more surreal 'reality' that keenly juxtaposes the hyper-reality that Assayas frames using more conventional 35mm shots. Of course these stylistic intentions do affect the technical limitations of any presentation, and thus Demonlover, on Blu-ray, frequently fluctuates between some beautifully cleaned-up 35mm footage that truly showcases the stunning workmanship of the 2K remaster (the final scene is perhaps the best example of this) and arguably some of the most grainy footage non-grain enthusiasts have ever been horrified to endure, with shimmering noise absolutely pervasive in a few of the shots.
Despite this, detail remains relatively on-point, sometimes impressive even, whilst the colour scheme - intentionally muted down to an almost clinical level - also stays faithful to the visual aesthetic. As stated, even if it will hardly spring to mind as a shining example of what your kit can deliver - or, indeed, what a decent 2K remaster can deliver - this is an utterly faithful reflection of Assayas' visual intentions.
Demonlover Blu-ray SoundThe accompanying lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track makes the most of the impressively moody score from Sonic Youth, promoting it as a firm underpinning to the frequently cold and reserved material, which only really comes to life during the nightclub sequences or some of the latter more fantastical moments of twisted reality.
A solid delivery of a strong track
Dialogue - initially almost exclusively French, with a seamless shift to English towards the latter end of the film - remains clearly and coherently rendered throughout, afforded priority across the frontal array. Indeed, this is a largely front-dominated affair, but the effects do occasionally spread out to take charge of the surrounds, particularly in scenes involving fights, gunshots, or vehicular - car or even helicopter - noises. The score affords a reserved backdrop, giving the 2002 film a fairly timeless feel and rounding out a solid delivery of a strong track.
Demonlover Blu-ray ExtrasArrows UK Blu-ray release of Demonlover affords it a superb selection of extra features headlined by a fast-paced audio commentary from writer/director Olivier Assayas himself, in French with subtitles. Assayas divulges every little intention, background titbit, filming location, performance quirk or thematic relevance he can possibly reveal, with a non-stop commentary which is pretty damn comprehensive in and of itself.
A superb selection of extra features
There's also a further new video essay from film critic Jonathan Romney, and a feature-length Documentary, both of which cover many of the same topics as the commentary, with a further Featurette on Sonic Youth's production of the score, a Q&A with the director, and an extended version of the Hellfire Club footage, with some Trailers to round out the disc.
Demonlover Blu-ray VerdictIt's a very effectively unpleasant companion-piece to Cronenberg's earlier Videodrome, and still has relevance almost 20 years further into the Internet Age, making you wonder just how prescient Assayas was back in 2002
Arrow's UK Region B-locked Blu-ray release of Demonlover delivers the film with an impressive enough 2K restoration of the Director's Cut, strong lossless audio, and a hefty salvo of extras which reveal just about everything you could possibly want to know about the making of the movie. Hardly a pleasant affair, Assayas certainly does what he sets out to do, messing with your mind as he looks behind the darker edges of the internet and, indeed, of modern consumer-driven corporate society.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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