French Canadian film The Demons, from director Philippe Lesage, peaks behind the curtain of suburban civility for a slow but powerful discussion on childhood, sexuality, and social relationships. In it, an adolescent boy named Felix begins to encounter the adult world in subtle, but dramatic ways.
Lesage is clearly an inquisitive and open-minded documentarian whose curiosity allows him to pry the deepest most private parts of life without seemingly rabidly intrusive. That’s an important part of a film like this, especially when its about children. There’s nothing exploitative about this film. It doesn’t shamelessly mine its darker aspects but doesn’t bother to weird up the suburban atmosphere a la David Lynch. The Demons has its own distinct placidity.
The first half sticks pretty rigidly to Felix’s immediate sphere, his anxieties about his parents’ potential break-up are aggravated by his father’s flirtations with a friend’s mother. His older brother’s friends are boyish and playful, but brutally homophobic. His friends tease and play like kids, but such a high level of empathy is invested in Felix that those dismissible “childish acts”, the teasing especially, are deeply felt. Peer pressure, lack of security, all the anxieties of a pre-teen boy are amplified for the audience by quietly confrontational realism. Its commendable because it successfully relays the impact of throwaway lines.
Lesage’s camera takes the mundane and reveals the motion or drama behind it. A later sequence at a fun fair has the camera static on a blue sky sequentially interrupted by a rollercoaster carriage of screaming kids, and the counter-weight pendulum that keeps it swinging. Its a great visual gag symbolising the film’s decision to focus on the quieter, heavier details. The Demons is more of an exposé than you might expect, revealing the dull everyday dramas and deaths of life, but the massive forces at work behind every one of those facets.
Unfortunately though, Lesage has not formulated any concrete point or concept, and the film -even after its most dramatic moments – feels fly-on-the-wall. Which in dramatic terms feels a bit agnostic considering some of the weightier plot points. Even with the creeping disappearances of children, teased by radio broadcasts and overheard conversations, the film never quite exploits tension, or even discourse when the kidnapper is eventually revealed.
In one risky breath, Lesage considers the fleshy underbelly of suburban existence, but in the same exhalation, he appears to stack a child’s burgeoning sexuality, a father’s potential cheating, and a young man’s dangerous paedophiliac desires as the so-called “demons”. Its uncomfortable to reduce these to the same natural desire and ultimately kinda gross.
Altogether, The Demons is a subtle, emotive, and empathetic glimpse behind suburban adolescence, and though finely made, but there’s not enough being said to make it particularly memorable.
Dir. Philippe Lesage
Stars. Edouard Tremblay-Grenier, Pier-Luc Funk, Laurent Lucas, Pascale Bussieres, Victoria Diamond