Demon under Glass (2002)

An unusual suspect is caught in a joint police operation, but the Feds take him away to a secret government facility. What happens there over the coming days and weeks is testing the faith, the beliefs, and the ethics of everyone involved.

I am not sure why, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Despite what the DVD artwork implies, this straight-to-video production is not a horror film. It is more of a psychological piece, albeit at times a simplistic one. With its psychological angle and its focus on medical research the film reminded me a bit of The Wisdom of Crocodiles, but the latter is a much slicker production. Also, there is the significant difference that the focus in Demon under Glass is much more on the human protagonists than on the vampire.

I have to admit that going into this I did not expect much, and when the film started it became clear fairly quickly that this was not going to be a visual masterpiece. In fact, the film has all the looks of a project made by your local high school film club. And yet it still managed to intrigue me. I guess the solid casting has a lot to do with that. The main actors are all chosen well for their respective roles. And all of them possess a lot of talent. That talent does not always shine through, not always reach its full potential, but that is probably down to a combination of writing, directing, and lack of time.

Garett Maggart is perfectly cast as Dr McKay, a man who cares for his patients and has a solid yet flexible medical ethos. He is faced with an “ends-justify-means” type of boss (played by Jack Donner) who has his own doubts and conflicts. The medical team is completed by veteran TV actress Jean St. James as the competent and always composed head nurse, and “that-guy” actor Ray Proscia as a spineless senior lab technician of the “just-following-orders” variety.

The three main performances outside this medical circle are courtesy of Denise Alessandria Hurd as a persistent police detective, and veteran performers David Jean Thomas as a grieving father and Harrison Young as a no-nonsense government “suit”. Many of the roles in this film are a bit two-dimensional in the way that they are written, but that does not weigh so heavily in this case as they compliment each other to somehow create a bigger picture.

But while the focus is more on the human protagonists and their external and internal conflicts, the pivotal element of the story is still our “patient”, Simon Molinar. And Jason Carter throws himself into this role with great success. Without him, the film may have faltered before our very eyes. But his performance lifts this film up into solid B-movie territory.

Jason Carter is an odd actor. His looks and demeanour always seem a bit off, like they are unfitting for our time. Accordingly, he is best known for his role as Ranger Marcus Cole, a future quasi-d’Artagnan, on the SciFi show Babylon 5. And I would not hesitate to cast him in a Shakespeare play, in a Robin Hood adventure, or in a Tolkienesque fantasy drama; but I would have difficulties imagining him in a mundane role as your average Joe. It is probably this intangible “man-out-of-time-and-place” quality which makes him so uniquely suitable for this role. In each second he is on screen you feel that this man is not “one-of-us”.

The film’s central subject revolves around ethical questions in medical research. And so you can see undertones of criticism directed at medical trials as well as at research involving lab rats. As such, the film could have gone down the “body horror” route, but chose not to. As per its 2002 release date, you might be tempted to interpret certain decisions and “ends-justify-means” attitudes in this film as a more broadly cast criticism of government and society, such as the Patriot Act or related policies.

Now, the interesting premise and the solid acting aside, the film also has its weaknesses. I feel there are a number of problems with the editing. Too many short scenes and quick cuts, too many dream sequences, too many repetitions.

But apart from the editing and the extremely dull camera work, I believe most of the film’s problems stem from the writing. There are various interesting ethical dilemmas and inner conflicts in this story, but I feel that most of them are not as fully fleshed out or as deeply explored as one might wish for. And on several occasions the dialogue sounded a bit artificial. That happens from time to time: lines which sound perfectly fine written down, suddenly sound unnatural when said out loud. It is here, I feel, where the aforementioned problems with writing, directing, and lack of time come into play: inexperienced director and co-writer Jon Cunningham was apparently unable to guide the actors through their occasional difficulties. In certain scenes, some of the actors seemed unsure what their character was going through at exactly that moment. And there was possibly not enough time to repeat certain scenes over and over again in order to achieve a more solid take. Thankfully, Garett Maggart’s character is not affected by this, while Jason Carter is absolutely able to sell any line anyway, no matter how unnatural or pretentious it may sound. It helps, of course, that Carter’s character is a walking anachronism, so unwieldy dialogue simply blends into his overall persona.

Yet somehow the solid idea behind the story is able to shine through and is not getting buried under the flaws. At 110 minutes, Demon under Glass is extremely long for a film in which nothing much is happening. And despite its length and despite its at times rather slow pace, I sat through this film without ever getting tired of it. I was not exactly riveted or mesmerised, but the acting, especially by Carter, in combination with the story itself, kept my interest up high enough to weather the 110 minutes running time. I will admit that by the end I was increasingly getting sick of the always recurring sets, the same hospital rooms, the same green-and-white colour scheme. But this is what hospitals look like and me getting increasingly stir-crazy perfectly complemented the deteriorating mind-sets of the protagonists, who – like the audience – have spent far too much time in this confined space.

The film’s finale is a bit daft, and is happening largely off-screen (presumable because there was no time or budget left for more fight choreography), but the film somehow had to get where the writers wanted it to get to.

Were this film visually more competent, and had the story’s ethical and psychological angles been explored to their full potential, this film could have been an underground independent hit, appealing to a far wider audience than just hard-core vampire fans. And in a way, it also was ahead of its time. Had it been made and released as counter-programming to the likes of Twilight or Vampire Academy, it might also have had more of an impact.

At any rate, Demon under Glass is a nice B-movie with an interesting premise and a story that plays out in a thought-provoking manner. If you are not deterred by a slow-paced 110-minute film with very few action, this is worth a watch. But in that case I would probably still rather see The Wisdom of Crocodiles than this one, even though Jason Carter’s performance is intriguing.

I would give this film roughly 5 out of 10 (bemoaning the fact that it could have been much better) and will single this film out as a prime example of a remake candidate, as this could be turned into gold if someone would tighten (and deepen) the script and conjure up a decent budget.

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