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‘Demonic’ Director Neill Blomkamp on the ‘Cage of Cameras’ He Used to Shoot the VR Scenes

”It ended up being a super-confined, horrific, jail cell-style situation,“ the director tells TheWrap of the camera set-up

Neill Blomkamp’s new horror film “Demonic” seemingly has everything: a trauma subplot, an estranged mother and daughter relationship, a nightmare sequence with monsters, a group of Vatican soldiers performing exorcisms and VR scenes filmed using volumetric capture video technology.

The story follows a woman, Carly (Carly Pope), whose mom, Angela (Nathalie Boltt), is in a coma. When Carly was a teenager, Angela had some sort of a break and killed 21 people, resulting in a decades-long estrangement, but now, Carly gets recruited by two doctors (who turn out to be a Vatican special forces team of sorts), to reach out to her. The doctors, Michael (Michael J. Rogers) and Daniel (Terry Chen), hook her up to a device – and this is where the volumetric capture comes in – which lets her enter her mom’s subconscious and walk around in her mind amid all her memories. However, there’s a demon inside Angela – which explains her break – so when Carly enters her dreams, the supernatural being starts to go after her, leading to all kinds of chaos, including nightmares and hallucinations.

Blomkamp said that the VR scenes stemmed from his interest in using volumetric capture, though the technique is fairly new and hasn’t really made its way into mainstream Hollywood or filmmaking yet.

“I just love the aesthetic look of it, I love the texture of it,” Blomkamp said. “I wanted to find a way to use it, but I knew because it was so glitchy and so new, that you’d have to think carefully about how to put it into a story where you can treat it like normal visual effects. It would have to be explained why it looks the way that it looks, and so in the case of this film… I thought you could explain it to the audience in the sense that it’s a prototype piece of technology.”

For “Demonic,” Blomkamp described the difficulties using the technique during the filming process, as more than 250 cameras were arranged to capture the actors from all points of view to properly display them as three-dimensional objects in the film’s VR scenes.

“The cameras had to be arranged around the actors in a way that they’re close enough that you try to get the resolution up, but they’re far enough away that the actors still have enough space to walk,” Blomkamp said. “So it ends up being a super confined, horrific, jail cell-style situation of just a cage of cameras around the actors. It’s not great, it’s not a good filming process.”

Despite the newer technology used to piece together Blomkamp’s vision, he said the film was inspired by more classic horror films, like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

“I always wanted to try the the challenge of a small, self-financed horror film at some point, but I never really knew when,” the director said. “Then, in March and April of last year, when the world responded to the pandemic, I sort of resurrected that idea, so I sifted through these older ideas that I had that were floating around in my head.”

One of the ideas was utilizing volumetric capture, while the other idea involved people from the Vatican institution operating in a “more corporate 21st century way.” With “Demonic,” Blomkamp said he was able to combine these two seemingly disparate ideas about VR and demonic possession and fit it into the smaller budget.

“I was trying to make people scared, so I’m hoping that’s what happens,” Blomkamp said. “I don’t know whether I succeeded or not, but that was the goal.”

“Demonic” opens Friday in U.S. theaters and on demand.