Philippe Lesage directs his first narrative feature, after the experience of making documentary films in the years which preceded this. ‘The Demons’, made in Montreal, tells the story of ten year old Felix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier) who faces a number of troubling circumstances as he begins to navigate the adult world.
First of all, Felix appears withdrawn in school. Then his home life is starting to crumble as his parents begin to fall out. These seeds are all planted in the opening of the film, but it is by no means completely an “a film about family”. Nor is it just a film solely about sexuality, though it does discuss this too. It takes on something a lot more ambitious as a whole.
The domestic settings are all middle-class houses in leafy suburbs. The families all have expensive furnishings. They have record players and Fjallraven Kanken backpacks. One early scene shows a child’s birthday party; the gifts are fashionable sneakers with matching cap and a skateboard. It’s all very comfortable. The colour palate is very bright, in the clothing, the school interiors, and the poolside scenes. The strong primary colours may bring about ideas of childhood, but they are by far the opposite of the dark themes of the film.
The film is deliberately unclear about time and place. We could be viewing something set in any suburb at any time. The vivid colours bring about an 80’s feel, but equally it could be argued that this is the 90’s or even more recent still. It’s tending away from the nostalgia craze of recent years (see something like ‘Stranger Things‘ as a polar opposite). The clothing (for the most part) has all logos removed, again to void ‘The Demons‘ of a sense of time.
So, what is already established as an unusual viewing experience is given another playful twist in form. For the first third of the film, there are shots that are left open ended before cut. The action in the scene has stopped, yet we still with the characters as they are remain static (usually tired or asleep). This is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that the thoughts and intentions of Felix are what form the bulk of the narrative.
Often there are levels of nuanced detail that I wished were given more room in the film. For example, in the latter half, Felix has a series of visions. It’s difficult to talk about it without spoiling the film. However, this only occurs immediately after Felix talks about hallucinations with a school friend. You can’t help but feel that this should’ve been established earlier in the film.
The performances are naturalistic, and believable. Toward the final section of the film, we get a sequence almost completely removed from the style and tone of the film. Up until this point, we have only ever followed Felix and experienced his world through his eyes. We jump from that into a tense, and unnerving sequence. It certainly isn’t what you would’ve expected.
Lesage is ambitious in form with ‘The Demons‘, and in part, that pays off. It’s a difficult watch, and one that goes in unexpected directions. I applaud this production because it tries so hard at being unique. To a certain extent, it succeeds.
Drama, World Cinema | Canada, 2015 | Glasgow Film Festival |Be For Films | Dir.Phillippe Lesage |Édouard Tremblay-Grenier, Pier-Luc Funk, Vassili Schneider