E-DEMON poster | ©2018 Dark Cuts Entertainment

E-DEMON poster | ©2018 Dark Cuts Entertainment

Rating: Unrated
Stars: Julia Kelly, John Anthony Wylliams, Christopher Daftsios, Ryan Redebaugh, Lindsay Goranson, Jessica Renee Russell, Cedric Cannon, Vincent Cooper, Max Rhyser, Waltrudis Buck, Diane Tyler, Celine Justice
Writer: Jeremy Wechter
Director: Jeremy Wechter
Distributor: Dark Cuts Entertainment
Release Date: September 14, 2018 (Los Angeles theatrical and VOD); September 21, 2018 (New York theatrical)

E-DEMON is the latest entry in the subgenre of webcam horror, a movie that takes place entirely in video chat and cell phone screens. There are enough of these films now to demonstrate that it’s a viable format, with good, bad, and indifferent examples of the form.

Going for full-blown horror mythology, writer/director Jeremy Wechter does a couple of smart, unexpected things at the start. Firstly, he populates E-DEMON not with the customary teens or college students, but instead with a quartet of early-thirtysomethings who all went to college together. Kendra (Julia Kelly) is an aspiring children’s book author, Dwayne (John Anthony Wylliams) is a happily married father of two, A.J. (Christopher Daftsios) has done well financially and is maybe a little too self-satisfied, and Mar (Ryan Redebaugh) has lost his job and moved back in with his family.

Secondly, filmmaker Wechter posits that these best buds have long engaged in “freak-out” pranks, where one or several will create a horrible situation to see whether the others will believe it’s actually happening. So when the four-way video conference between the gang has a couple of outrageous moments, everyone correctly assumes they’re being punked. Since the audience knows the title of the movie, we’re a little ahead of the characters when things start to escalate unnaturally, but we understand why they’re slow to react.

The jumping-off point for both the initial prank of the night and the actual calamity in progress is a formerly locked trunk belonging to Mar’s family. The trunk is said to be cursed and, per Mar’s “Gamma” (Waltrudis Buck), must never be opened. Mar has opened it, and unwittingly releases a demon that is able to use modern technology to spread possession far and wide.

E-DEMON is one of those cases where it seems like the story might have been better served in prose form. We get exposition and information in clumps where we have to figure out whether and how it jibes with what we’ve just seen. This doesn’t play as suspenseful ambiguity, but rather as distraction – we’re pulled out of the action while trying to parse exactly what’s happening, including the unclear matter of why some people get possessed and others are murdered. In print form, we’d at least be able to turn back a few pages and see if it all adds up. As it is, it’s hard to know if the explanation is jumbled, or if there are genuine plot holes. A big problem is that E-DEMON invests a lot in the idea that the friends aren’t sure who to trust. Theoretically, this is valid, but because of the way the story is set up, this doesn’t carry the weight that it might.

There are some genuinely disturbing moments and images here that qualify as horror in the truest sense (there are a couple of things here that – how to put this without being spoilery – aren’t gory, but that almost no one will want to see). However, there are few scares. A framing device at the beginning tips us off to a lot of what will happen, and introduces us to a hooded figure who wants us to join the “e-demon resistance,” which unfortunately has no payoff.

The acting is good, with Kelly and Wylliams both highly sympathetic, and Daftsios hitting all the right notes as a good-time guy drifting out of his depth. It’s also admirable how the filmmakers get around any shots that might cost them money – whenever the action threatens to require more than is affordable, the video chat breaks up into pixels, which can also add an eerie look on occasion.

E-DEMON gets points for weirdness and for a good concept, but it would benefit from a clearer reading of its rules and its immediate stakes.

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