A man of science is forced to swallow his skepticism about the mysterious forces of evil and the entirely flexible nature of reality in "The Irrefutable Truth About Demons." While the generic plot doesn't bear close examination and the dialogue is not always Pulitzer material, writer-director Glenn Standring conjures a creepy, brooding atmosphere and enough thrills to keep young horror enthusiasts glued. Presold to a handful of European territories, this slick New Zealand production should score some minor theatrical play en route to wider coverage on video.

A man of science is forced to swallow his skepticism about the mysterious forces of evil and the entirely flexible nature of reality in “The Irrefutable Truth About Demons.” While the generic plot doesn’t bear close examination and the dialogue is not always Pulitzer material, writer-director Glenn Standring conjures a creepy, brooding atmosphere and enough thrills to keep young horror enthusiasts glued. Presold to a handful of European territories, this slick New Zealand production should score some minor theatrical play en route to wider coverage on video.

An anthropology lecturer who specializes in research into fraudulent religious and satanic cults, Dr. Harry Ballard (Karl Urban) receives a warning from devil-worshipping coven Black Lodge that a serious lesson is coming his way. He gets a further warning from enigmatic street waif Benny (Katie Wolfe) but shrugs off the danger until he’s abducted and drugged while leaving his office.

Narrowly escaping mutilation by chainsaw, Harry goes to the police, who don’t buy his story. He struggles home to recover and emerges from a soak in the tub to find his girlfriend, Celia (Sally Stockwell), slashed and crucified, with his confession scrawled in blood on the wall. Bolting before cops arrive, Harry turns for help to his stoned assistant (Tony MacIver), who gets butchered and left for roaches to snack on before he can get the doc to safety.

Through former Black Lodge member Benny, who becomes his guardian angel, Harry learns that the sect’s high priest LeValliant (Jonathon Hendry) wants to deliver his soul to the demons. These are depicted as insect-like skeletons that lurch out of alleys and scramble up the walls of buildings.

Confusion escalates when Harry sees Celia alive and well, conferring with LeValliant. He follows her home and confronts her, but she convinces him he’s tripping from too many prescription drugs and from nightmares about his dead brother (Neill Rea), another cult disciple.

Even within the elastic boundaries of the genre, the script’s grasp of logic becomes progressively more erratic — especially in the late going that leads to a face-off between Harry and LeValliant — but the pic remains well-paced and compelling enough nonetheless. Urban makes an appealing lead but the material prohibits the cast from injecting much nuance.

Visually and in terms of sustaining tension, “Demons” benefits from Simon Baumfield’s agile lensing, with handheld cameras constantly sneaking up on the characters. Paul Sutorius’ rapid editing also contributes, and Clive Memmott’s production design creates a richly sinister backdrop. Portentous soundtrack is a highly tuned mix of cranked-up noise, eerie effects and obsessive techno music by Victoria Kelly and Joost Langveld. Creature designs are sharply realized.

The Irrefutable Truth About Demons

New Zealand

Production

A First Sun presentation in association with New Zealand Film Commission of a First Sun production. (International sales: New Zealand Film Commission, Wellington.) Produced by Dave Gibson. Directed, written by Glenn Standring.

Crew

Camera (color), Simon Baumfield; editor, Paul Sutorius; music, Victoria Kelly, Joost Langveld; production designer, Clive Memmott; costume designer, World, Frances Hooper, Denise L'Estrange-Corbet; sound (Dolby Digital), Ray Beentjes; visual effects designer, Nigel Streeter; demon designer, Troy Stephens, Alex Kennedy; line producer, Chris Tyson; assistant director, Chris Odgers. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 18, 2000. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Harry - Karl Urban Benny - Katie Wolfe Celia - Sally Stockwell LeValliant - Jonathon Hendry Johnny - Tony MacIver Lawrence - Peter Daube Richard - Neill Rea
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