If there is a director whose work can’t be called repetitive, that would be Olivier Assayas. He’s been making movies since the mid-Eighties, but only become a cinematic force since the 2000s (purists will also include Irma Vep from 1996, but I haven’t yet seen it, and can’t opine). All of his more well-known films tend to dance a fine line between pop and art, intellect and trash, technology and the bucolic. Dropped in the midst of these narratives (well, many of them) are slices of East Asian glamor which can render an already murky plot even murkier or simply exist for auteur purposes.
Demonlover is, to date, Assayas’ only incursion into New French Intensity and it is a shame because his cinema, always a contrast between the cold and the warm, would be perfectly suited for the genre. You can see it splashed all over the 2002 film, restored to its former glamor and pristine, menacing visuals. He tells a rather Darwinian story of power-hungry execs with no moral compass and a taste for sadism with a coolness bordering on Cronenberg terrain that is fascinating as it is frustrating. There are moments when I knew (or thought I knew) where the plot of Demonlover was headed, and others where I just threw my hands in the air and went “Welp–here goes another one. Just watch the images, dude. Don’t start overthinking.”
So, let’s see. We have an opening sequence of Diana de Monx (frosty Danish actress Connie Nielsen, perfect for her part) coolly performing a company takeover right from under her own boss’ nose in a sequence of legerdemain that has to be seen to be believed. Soon after, once the lady-boss is dispatched and no longer a threat, Diana takes control of her software company, and soon is overseas in the Far East in a bidding war over a 3-D hentai company with another company run by Elaine Si Gibril (Gina Gershon). Floating in the middle is an internal power struggle between a male colleague (Charles Herling) and an assistant (Chloe Sevigny), both of who are not who they seem to be.
Midway through the movie, we realize that it is changing into something else entirely, and this is where Demonlover progresses from a thriller involving cyber-espionage into something even more perverse in which allegiances change at the drop of a hat, or let’s say convenience. Some of it is deserved — we get it — but others are perplexing. However, to disclose what it becomes would be a crime to a movie that is transgressive as it is bold and even repellent at times (and I can’t say that any other Assayas film has affected me this way). Suffice it be to say that power dynamics flip on a switch, and the movie that we were watching is no longer there. A neat hat trick is borne, performed partly to shock, and also to simply fuck up the viewer’s own mind as the viewer looks into an abyss of perversity.
Demonlover is still playing on virtual platforms. If you can, give it a look. Just be warned — the story is murky but ultra-sleek, and completely amoral.