Sometimes life is a struggle and it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees, with nowhere to turn to for support and a demon on your tail. For Ralph Tennyson, working a good job but still struggling to make ends meet, it was a simple mistake that caused his life to unravel, falling asleep on a train and missing his stop, leading to a fine which he failed to pay on time.
Ignoring the warning letters the sum has multiplied to over ten times the original value with penalties and a court summons, Ralph now hiding out from a bailiff who enjoys his job too aggressively at the Forest Lodge Motel in Epping Forest, hoping distance and anonymity will protect him, give him the breathing space to gather himself.
Instead, the nightmare continues, from the crank calls at reception to the creepy couple in the next cabin, to the stains on the bathroom floor to his sleepwalking, waking in the forest to be confronted by a homeless man begging for money and threatening him, a fate which may soon be his if he does not either sort himself out or become someone new in this place where he is a stranger.
The feature debut of George Louis Bartlett, co-written with Theo Macdonald, Demon is a nightmare of circumstance and awkward interactions, Ryan Walker-Edwards a genuinely kind and sympathetic man tossed by merciless waves on an ocean of ill fortune, perpetrator of a victimless crime and hounded by a cruel system which targets those least able to defend themselves, the penalty for being poor to be rendered destitute.
Ralph’s only friend Kent (Jacob Hawley) concerned for his mental health and wellbeing, his feeble attempts to help only magnify the problem, cutting off the one escape route which might have existed, prompting Ralph to ask strangers for help, “neighbours” Luke and heavily pregnant Lena (Stephen Bradley and Rachel Jackson), their willingness an alarm bell Ralph fails to hear as they guide him further into the trees.
Described optimistically as a mind-bending thriller, Demon does not aspire to such heights, a minimalist drama of quiet desperation filmed in a now blessedly closed facility, the bleakness of the location and the situation amplified by the simple black and white photography which shifts to crimson when threat is presented, a fragment of a broken life where the sharp edges make rendering aid impossible without cooperation which Ralph is unlikely to give.