Following the death of her younger sister in a satanic ritual sacrifice, a distraught and remorseful Taryn Barker (Niamh Hogan) makes a pact with the soul-sucking demon Falstaff.
However, the bonding ritual is interrupted before Taryn loses her soul completely. With her humanity intact, Taryn joins forces with a secret organisation and becomes a demon hunter seeking revenge on the dark forces that killed her sister.
Director Zoe Kavanagh has a background in music videos, and it’s easy to see the influence of short-form filmmaking on Demon Hunter’s look and feel. This is a lean picture at 85 minutes, but it’s a film that constantly surprises with its rich and creative visuals.
This variation between scenes makes for something that feels very substantial. Kavanagh employs vignetting to move the story between space and place, often with eerie or unsettling images.
The majority of the first half of the picture is presented through montage or cutaways and often plays out like music videos. These sequences present some of the film’s most memorable imagery: dreams turning to nightmares, combat demonstrations, gory FX shots and so on.
Demon Hunter makes the most of its lo-fi visuals and sound effects. In another picture the sparing computer effects and louder-than-loud FX mixing would come off as cheesy and off-putting. However, Demon Hunter works these elements into its aesthetic as loving tribute.
Through its technique and execution Demon Hunter stands alongside other big name B-horror favourites. The film’s visual effects brought Hellraiser to mind. As did the ADR-heavy dialogue.
I suspect that name of the lead character, Taryn Barker, is also an allusion to Hellraiser’s writer/director (Clive Barker). And like Hellraiser, Demon Hunter is a plucky and uncompromising production.
Joss Whedon’s Buffy looms large over Demon Hunter as well. The premises and situations are not entirely dissimilar.
Fans of the vampire slayer will no doubt get a kick out of the many references littered throughout Demon Hunter. A recognisable ringtone here, a borrowed FX shot there.
There’s pleasure to be had in spotting Kavanagh’s homage to her horror-action influences.
Demon Hunter’s blending of genres works well. The grotesque scary-movie imagery against the down-to-earth Dublin setting. There’s an unsettling contrast between the real world and the hellish backdrops we see during the ritual and sacrifice sequences.
The movie also has some fun with mixing the everyday with the extraordinary. A dull police station is turned red with blood and mood lighting during a demonic invasion. It’s especially impressive to see the transformative power of Kavanagh’s direction applied to a familiar setting that moments ago looked like nothing special at all.
If the film falters in any area, it’s in the handling of its action sequences. Action movies trade on their ability to display masterful movement.
At times, Demon Hunter’s action is admirable. Kavanagh is especially skilled at filming vehicular action. The sequences in which Taryn rides a motorbike at speed through narrow streets are consistently thrilling. Other aspects of the film’s action – fist and gunfights – fall short of the mark.
Niamh Hogan is an accomplished martial artist, but we’re only treated to snatch-and-grab shots of her fighting technique. Kavanagh takes a compartmentalised approach to the hand-to-hand combat in Demon Hunter.
Action is mostly presented in close-up, with movement cut into its component parts. The result is that we never really get a clear view of the combatants’ bodies when they’re fighting.
We get a sense of Taryn’s ability as a demon hunter, but we never really see it. Which is a pity.
The use of rapid cutting does create excitement, but Hogan and the action would have been better served with wider angles. This lack of clarity is a mark against the film.
Hogan is clearly very capable as a physical performer, but we don’t see her in action often enough. Luckily, the film’s action is made worthwhile in other ways, particularly when it comes to sound mixing and FX choices.
Taryn wields a variety of samurai style weaponry to fight demons. Every swing and slash is accompanied by perfectly matched chanbara sound effects.
The loud mixing of these effects evoke midnight movies and classic kung-fu films. It’s a neat touch, playing up the film’s B-movie style and allows us to look past its shortcomings.
Demon Hunter is so aware of itself that it’s hard not to forgive it anything. The Buffy-esque demon disintegration shots are a welcome addition as well.
Every time I thought something looked cheesy, I had to remind myself that that’s the point, and each time, it made me like the film all the more.
Demon Hunter delivers on the promise of its premise in a big way. It’s the Ronseal Quick Drying Wood Stain of Irish action-horror films.
Kavanagh and Hogan make for a good duo, and Demon Hunter has a lot to recommend it, despite its foibles. Taryn’s voice-over at the close of the film hints at further adventures for the demon hunter, I for one, look forward to taking them in.