A devilishly playful comedy that hides its small-time budget with big-time attitude.
Love & Demons
Love and Demons opens with San Francisco-based writer-director J.P. Allen, playing a demon named “Mister D.”, addressing the camera directly, delivering a chilling monologue, assessing the lives of mortals like you and I from a devil’s-eye view. “Let me tell you a little story. The story of your life.” It’s a striking, statement for Allen to open up his film with, and he does it with utter confidence. He’s asking us to participate in the experience up front, and the frankness of it all sets the stage for an inventive, devilishly playful romantic comedy that breaks the mold and overcomes its paltry budget.
We follow an unnamed couple (Chris Pflueger and Lucia Frangione) who live in San Francisco and are under a lot of domestic and financial stress. Addressing us directly, just as Mister D. did, the man tells us of hallucinations he’s been having lately, of another man (Mister D.) stalking him in his home who asks him to meet in the park. (Allen places himself in the blurred out background of the shot behind the man, a nice touch.)
Once Mister D. convinces the man that he isn’t a hallucination at all, he begins to manipulate him into turning against his lover, planting seeds of suspicion and doubt. The woman gets a demon of her own, played by Arnica Skulstad Brown, who counters Mister D’s scheme by feeding the woman’s paranoia as well. Watching the demons prod at their respective pawns and try to outmaneuver each other with their silver tongues is entirely entertaining, and the actors clearly relish the opportunity to be open and playful with the material.
Aside from Allen, whose delivery is spot-on (he’s clearly loving every minute of screen time), the actors aren’t going to wow anyone with their performances. But the great thing is that the surrealist, cheeky material doesn’t require any more of them. Allen is a filmmaker of conviction and bravado, using simple editing tricks and flourishes (like quick flashes of a gun being cocked or a filter that floods the screen in red and makes the actors look hand-drawn) with complete confidence. He’s having fun, and it’s hard not to be won over by his enthusiasm.
The plot isn’t constructed particularly well, but the film’s style oozes and masks it well. The film’s final standoff, which is eluded to early on, is probably the least effective moment, disappointingly. Though the film’s exuberant editing is a treat, the actual camerawork–the movement, the framing–leaves a lot to be desired.
Sexy, mischievous, and provocative, Love and Demons is a singular moviegoing experience in that it engages us directly, breaking the 4th wall and creating a sense of immediacy and interactivity typically reserved for the theater. It’s hard to pull off on screen, but Allen infuses the film with so much attitude that he makes it work. This is a San Francisco production from top to bottom and is playing for a one week run starting tonight at the city’s Opera Plaza Cinema. Don’t miss it if you’re in the area.