Neill Blomkamp‘s fourth feature film, Demonic, is finally out. While it contains the sci-fi elements the District 9 director is known for, it also takes a turn into horror territory. Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri sat down with the Blomkamp to speak about how he came to think of this two-pronged idea, making a movie during COVID lockdowns, and what the Vatican has to do with all of this.
Michael Leri: Horror movies often have a more limited scope because a lot of the heavy lifting is done in the viewer’s mind or in the darkness. Did your will to make a horror movie have to do with the inherently limited scope that shooting during COVID lockdowns would have?
Neill Blomkamp: Yeah, I think so. When I was deciding on what to do, I felt like dusting off the idea of doing our own small horror film. It felt right. Because of the budget constraints and everything else, you just scale down. It just feels more intimate.
You said “dusting off.” Was this something you had been kicking around for a while?
No. I was thinking of the idea of making a horror film at some point at a low budget. But the story elements, not really. I had different story elements in my head like volumetric capture. I wanted to do something with the Vatican in a 21st-century kind of way.
Technology doesn’t seem to often mix with religious imagery outside of the two new Doom games. What about that worked for you and was something you wanted to explore in Demonic?
Doom is interesting in that sense. I’ve never thought about that before but it’s true. That is the closest thing that I can think of. Honestly, it was two separate ideas. I wanted to do something with volumetric capture at some point. It wasn’t necessarily a low-budget horror film. It wasn’t even a film. It may have been one of the Oats Studio YouTube pieces. I knew I wanted to do that.
I also had this idea of the Vatican operating in a 21st century way. They have so much capital that maybe they could almost, like the CIA, could buy out corporations and buy things to further their agenda. With this film, it was like I could use those two elements and put them together and see what happens. And that naturally is the religious meeting technology.
One was a filmmaking technique and the other was a conceptual idea. It yielded a demonically possessed person who is living in a virtual reality environment. The story grew out of that.
You said befoore that there was no way you would have made Demonic if it wasn’t for COVID. Do you think you will eventually want to make another horror movie after the pandemic clears?
Yeah, I would make more horror movies for sure. I also think that this doesn’t tick the boxes of a traditional horror film. For audiences that are hoping for straight up horror, it may not give them what they want. But in the realm of horror, I would be fully happy to do more in the genre. I love working the genre, actually.
If you look at Rakka, Zygote, or Firebase from Oats, they actually were the first steps for me into more explicit science fiction horror. So in a sense, Demonic is like the fourth one of those. But it’s the first feature that I’ve done.
Making this movie during the early lockdown phases was probably a challenge. Did you like that challenge or were the limitations frustrating? Sometimes creative people like some limitations.
No, I don’t think so. I would say I did everything to not make a “COVID film” It just was because of COVID, the right environment to shoot a small Paranormal Activity kind of film.
The part of it that is not advisable is that if you’re doing a small budget film, dealing with the extra COVID costs is not really wise. It should be a bigger studio film to soak up. Our mantra was “dollars on screen” so if the dollars aren’t going on screen, then they’re not going on screen. And if you have limited dollars, you’re just chewing away [the money].
But in the same sentence, you have no option but to get the COVID options correct. And the whole movie is the result of the rest of Hollywood taking a moment to assess things and I wanted to shoot something.
I need to find out or research when the word “lockdown” came into effect. People keep saying “lockdown” or “quarantine” and I don’t know if those words existed then. I’m serious. I don’t know if things were in lockdown. I don’t know. But at least in Canada, when stuff really was in lockdown, this wouldn’t have been possible because there are actual rules. We just wouldn’t have been able to make it. For us, it was more what the film industry is doing like testing and masks and the way that you enter and exit sets.
You’re working on a AAA multiplayer video game with Gunzilla as a part of your new role there. Can you explain how you’re trying to tell a story in a multiplayer mode, which is a mode that is typically free of narrative?
I can’t release anything about that. I can’t talk about it. Gunzilla is very specific about when or where they’ll talk about things. I am stoked to be working on a multiplayer shooter or any game and be part of the design team. It’s cool. It’s another avenue of creativity I’m really enjoying.