Demonlover (2002) is a French film hailing from director Olivier Assayas about the dark side of the commerce of internet porn. Young up-and-comer Diane (Connie Nielsen) has just staged a takeover of her superior’s position. During the transaction to acquire cutting edge hentai (that’s anime porn to anyone over the age of 40) she stumbles upon the exclusive Hellfire Club, a site that deals in interactive torture porn. Wanting a piece of the action she decides to venture further into the heart of darkness and down the Lynchian rabbit hole.
Any cynical cinephile will have noticed the two things by now and shuddered in dread. This is a film made about internet porn, in 2002- and trust me, Demonlover marks off every cliché in the book. We have ugly copyright free browsers, heavy metal leather fetish clubs, misunderstanding of internet culture and internet pornography, dial-up internet. It’s all here and turned up to 11. Now, I don’t mean to be an arsehole and judge a film for being made 17 years ago, but these films were everywhere at the turn of the century and they were tired and dated back then. As someone who grew up in this era of 90s cyberpunk I’d usually eat this stuff up for the nostalgia factor alone but the film goes for this gritty, almost Haneke-esque feel yet forces us through these terrible sequences that I’m convinced are there to cause a gasp but do little more than achieve shocked laughter. I’m not kidding, there is a scene at the beginning of the movie that is just 10 minutes of straight tentacle-rape hentai complete with these really try hard intrusive camera angles and lens flares as if any of this is more than comical. You want to be Haneke? Don’t open with PlayStation One quality FMV hentai.
The biggest problem I found with the film that irked me to no end, was its attempt to constantly imitate other films. I almost feel like the director wanted to copy the film he watched the previous night but every other night was Mulholland Drive night. There’s this Lynchian split halfway through the film where the tone switches from broody neo-noir to, well, Mulholland Drive again. To the film’s credit, the switch at least feels earned. It’s not so out of left field that it’s ridiculous, neither is it without an apt amount of gravity. The problem is that the switch does little to evolve the film from this point into anything more than slightly less dull than the first half.
I would like to clarify that I didn’t hate Demonlover. Really, I didn’t. It’s strange enough at least to be gawk worthy and at certain points there is almost something that resembles a somewhat interesting film. But the film constantly loses itself in its own pomposity that anything the film does well doesn’t feel earnest. It feels like it’s assuming what an experimental narrative would do next; most sequences feels like a poor impression of something else. Once the beats are noticed any intrigue and personal identity the film has is lost all too quickly.
Confusing, messy and lacking in a personality of its own, Demonlover is at least worth something on gawk factor alone. Worth a watch if there is absolutely nothing else to hand.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- Brand new 2K restoration of the 121-minute director’s cut, approved by Olivier Assayas
- High Definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentation
- Original 5.1 DTS-HD master audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Audio commentary by writer/director Olivier Assayas
- New visual essay written and narrated by critic Jonathan Romney
- Peripherie de Demonlover, an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary directed by Yorick Le Saux
- Archive interviews with Olivier Assayas, Connie Nielsen, Chloe Sevigny and Charles Berling
- SY NYC 12/12/01: The Demonlover Sessions, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the recording of the music score by Sonic Youth
- Q&A with Olivier Assayas filmed at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2003
- Extended version of the Hellfire Club sequence
- Original theatrical trailers
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson.
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Review by Joel from a disc kindly supplied by Arrow Films.