The Demons (2015) Film Review from the 59th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, a movie directed by Philippe Lesage, and starring Edouard Tremblay-Grenier, Pier-Luc Funk, Vassili Schneider, Laurent Lucas, and Victoria Diamond.
If one were to go exclusively by the picture painted in most movies dealing with the travails of youth, it would be extremely difficult to reach any conclusion other than adolescence is a time of pure bliss and care-free adventures. Of course, this may have been the cause for some lucky few, but for many others, it wasn’t nearly so fun and fancy free as the pictures would have us believe. It is this revisionist view on youth that Philippe Lesage’s The Demons takes. Pulling no punches in it’s examination of life during the early stages of puberty, the film could easily be described as The Perks of Being a Wallflower with the cynical, arguably cruel sensibility of Lord of the Flies.
The perception of cruelty derives from the movie’s treatment of it’s protagonist. A socially-awkward boy feeling the first pangs of sexual desire, Felix (Tremblay-Grenier) is disregarded for the most part by his more well-adjusted peers. He finds himself attracted to his lively young gym teacher Rebecca (Diamond), who shows no especial care for the boy and even humiliates him in front of his classmates when he asks one for a pencil near the beginning of the film. Unable to handle the intensity of his urges, he talks a friend of his into pretending to be Rebecca and simulating sex with her. Much to Felix’s horror, however, he discovers that what he thought was an innocent activity is regarded as deviant and even immoral by others, exacerbating his loneliness and confusion.
Although it may sound like the film basically throws a pity party for poor little Felix, it never makes the mistake of depicting the main character as nothing less than an angel wronged by the horrible, cruel world that many movies concerning adolescent life and sexuality do. Ordering his friend, who appears to be a little younger than him, to put on a dress of his mother’s he pilfered to the disturbing accompaniment of a silent soundtrack, Felix comes across less as a curious boy trying to navigate the mysteries of sex and more as an anxious predator anticipating the capture of long-awaited prey. Later on, he and his only friend Mathieu (Yannick Gobeil-Dugas) take another young boy named Alexandre (Alfred Poirier) under their wing only so they can trap him in a changing room locker. Alexandre did nothing to hurt or offend either of them: they just feel like treating another in a degrading way because they can. Perhaps this is the movie’s way of telling us that people who are victims in one context can just as easily be bullies or, keeping the title in mind, demons in another.
As we see in the ghastly story of Ben (Funk), the converse is also true. Despite appearing to be an amiable pool lifeguard with a lovely girlfriend, Ben is a compulsive child abductor who molests young boys before he kills them. Viewers can only watch helplessly as he waives away any lingering doubts held by his quarry and finally leads him down a quiet road, shovel in hand, into the darkness. But when he returns from the off-screen unpleasantness and cries to himself, we realize that he derives no pleasure from his depraved compulsions. When his girlfriend (Rose-Marie Perreault) discovers his body, with blood sprayed from self-inflicted wounds, in the pool showers, we understand, if not quite sympathize with the demon.
As unthinkable as it may be to imagine a child killer as anything less than a monster, The Demons does so in a thoughtful manner that effectively turns the mirror on society and makes us reconsider how we perceive ourselves. We rightly condemn and punish adults who commit violence against children, but we turn a blind eye to authority figures who inflict mental abuse on their charges as well as adolescents who senselessly torment their peers. We endlessly inveigh against the demons without, but ignore the demons within. The Demons is not an easy movie to watch, but it is a worthwhile, even necessary one.
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