Daemonium: Underground Soldier
It's become quite rare for a film to take me by surprise, but once in a while it does still happen. When I sat down to watch Pablo Parés' Daemonium: Soldado del Inframundo [Daemonium: Underground Soldier], never had I expected to see a film that holds the middle between Mad Max and Tokyo Zankoku Keisatsu. Now, my knowledge of Argentine cinema is pretty limited, which is probably why it stayed below the radar for such a long time, even so Daemonium is a film that defies expectations, for better or for worse.
I've seen people describe Pablo Parés as the godfather of Argentine genre cinema. I don't know nearly enough about Argentine genre cinema nor Parés' other films to assess whether he truly deserves the title (though he's sure to have had some serious competition from guys like Adrián García Bogliano), but based on Daemonium and his current accomplishments (more than 10 horror features and double the shorts for a guy that hasn't hit 40 yet) I'd say there must at least be some validity to the accolade.
Daemonium originated from a series of online shorts, which were later reworked into a full-length feature film. It's a project that took up 4 years of Parés' life, but the result is definitely something worth watching. That is, if you can appreciate the demented weirdness that is typical for the Sushi Typhoon style of horror on display here. It's pretty niche material and a film like this will likely never appeal to a wide audience, but if you can stomach some over-the-top monster madness Daemonium can easily hold its own.
The plot has quite a few crazy sidetracks, but the bottom line is actually pretty simple. A wizard is captured to summon an age old demon. A trade made with the demon opens up the sealed pathway between the human and the demon world. Razorback is the only one who benefits from the deal, but as his powers grow his time on Earth is running out. A clock is invariably counting back the minutes to his demise and nobody seems to be able to save Razorback from his doom. Nevertheless, he isn't planning to go down without a fight.
People familiar with Sushi Typhoon type cinema understand that there will be some visual compromises. There are a lot of monsters, post-apocalyptic wastelands and crazy fights and not a whole lot of budget to cover all of it. Even so, Parés makes great use of the finances and delivers a film that's notably better than many of his Japanese counterparts. There's still some shoddy CG here and there and some of the monsters looks decidedly rubbery, but I was actually quite impressed that he managed to pull it off so well. Fine camera work, creative creature/character design and good use of filters help to hide some of the film's shoddier effects.
The soundtrack is also quite interesting. Nothing too conspicuous or demanding, but there are several scenes where it did help to make a difference. Not everything is up to par, some of the music can be a little too generic, blending a bit too quickly into the background, but it never becomes grating or overly cheesy. On top of that, a film like this doesn't typically depend on a good soundtrack to succeed. It's clear though some proper thought was put into the choice and timing of the music, which is always appreciated.
As for the acting, when watching a film like this you know you're not going to get any A-grade actors. Luckily the people involved are well aware of the type of film they were making and what they lack in unfiltered talent, they made up for with pure enthusiasm. The acting isn't great, but they do manage to bring their characters to life with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek badassness. In any case, if you end up being disappointed by the acting, I'm sure there are more pressing things that ruined this film for you.
The fact that Daemonium comes from a continent not exactly known for producing these kind of films could've been its main pull, but it's not just curiosity value that makes this film worth your time. It's the fact that every character, every monster and every prop feels like something unique. Something with a very specific backstory that is part of a grander fantasy world. The link to Japan is obvious, but Parés' influences go way beyond that. South-American crime gangs, modern wizardry and even some cybergoth aesthetics all come together to make up this crazy horror/fantasy/sci-fi/action universe. And there's no cutting corners, no taking the easy way out, no "I guess this should do"s.
Even so, Daemonium: Underground Soldier is probably a little too bonkers to appeal to mainstream fans. You have to appreciate a special kind of weird to like a film like this, but if you do than Parés delivers one hell of a film. Availability could be a problem as a physical release seems to be lacking at the moment, but if you have access to Netflix you can stream it freely. There's little harm in giving it a go, Daemonium is sure to be a very memorable experience, even when you don't end up liking it.