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Don’t Look at the Demon opens with text about stillborn babies and witch doctors. The cold open further establishes the Malaysian setting with a scene at a monastery involving a television crew. From there, the investigative paranormal team heads to a haunted house after receiving a message asking for help. Not long after arriving, the group’s medium Jules (Fiona Dourif, Cult of Chucky) begins experiencing frightening visions that may have a connection to her past.
It is about an hour before the location factors into the story again. Despite taking place in Asia and having a story that eventually revolves around local rituals, there are few Asians in the story. The one Asian actress given anything resembling a prominent role portrays a sneaky seductress – and is featured in the film’s only nude scene. (That being said, she later plays a somewhat important role before being shuffled to the background again.) Even stranger, Don’t Look at the Demon never plays with the fish out of water aspect of the script.
This is not a knock against the performances, which are solid all the way around. Don’t Look at the Demon is a bare bones horror movie which does not ask much from its cast, but everyone does a good job of getting across the fear, anger, and doubt that is needed. But when you are the first Malaysian horror film to get a wide release in the United States as this has been touted, it would seem to be a good idea to play up the premise and people of the country.
Judging Don’t Look at the Demon for its technical aspects paints a better picture. It actively tries to present something different. The demon is not just content with benign haunted house scares. It violently attacks its victims immediately. There are the expected jump scares and manufactured tension, but there is not much lead up to the big shocks. It is a nice change of pace.
There are also many uncomfortable scenes involving the evil being and some of the women. Horror has a poor track record regarding its treatment of females and some scenes and dialogue seem to play with audience expectations of the worst case scenario. This, along with some surprisingly impressive gore scenes, adds a sense of fear and disgust.
Ultimately, Don’t Look at the Demon is content to be just another possession movie. The production is well done and the acting is serviceable. The big missed opportunity is not taking full advantage of the premise and setting. Even in its most familiar moments, there was a chance to provide something that has not been seen before. The film is never bad, but it is disappointing.
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