Dir/scr: Ain Mäeots. Estonia. 2012. 118mins


Estonian film Demons (Deemonid) is a blend of social realism and slick Hollywood morality tale that may – on occasion – feel slightly trite. But there’s more than enough style and panache here to make it more than a worthy watch.

The real star here is Elen Lotman’s cinematography which gives everything the same gloss and artificial sheen of a casino.

The film follows three people as they succumb to the lure of the casino and the thrill of gambling. Joko (Tambet Tuisk) is a high flying ad exec with a pregnant wife who finds his addiction spiralling out of country as he tries to give his spouse and baby to be a taste of the good life. Reeda is an old lady who stumbles onto gambling machines by accident and discovers that the payouts help to provide for her grandchildren while Ants seems to think he can beat the system by logic. All discover that, while the wins are dizzying, the losses are more frequent and soon begin to tear all their lives apart.

The central idea behind the film has been done many times before and the message that gambling is bad and can screw up people’s lives is hardly something of a revelation. But everything is done with such conviction and verve that it’s easier to accept the times when the film dips into melodrama.

The performances are excellent, with the three leads keeping the balance between joy and despair well. Indeed – while the ultimate outlook of the film is bleak – Mäeots does a good job of throwing in some humour amongst the darker moments. The multi-layered narrative, with characters inhabiting different time frames and sometimes tangentially crossing the paths of others is also handled well, despite being another well-worn technique.

The real star here is Elen Lotman’s cinematography (which won an award for the film when it recently played in competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival) which gives everything the same gloss and artificial sheen of a casino. With the light of day rarely entering the frame, Lotman’s work goes someway to explaining the lure of such places while also exposing their artificiality.

Screened at the Montreal and Helsinki Film Festivals, the film may prove as popular on the circuit as Estonian feature Mushrooming (which seems to have become something of a minor festival hit). But - despite a popular release domestically - its familiar story may see it struggle to find audiences outside of the festival bubble. But this is a well-executed drama buoyed by its unique look and sense of style.

Production company: Kino Kinokompani, www.kinokompanii.ee

Producer: Anneli Ahven

Screenplay: Ain Mäeots, Toomas Tilk

Cinematography: Elen Lotman

Editor: Tambet Tasuja             

Main cast: Tambet Tuisk, Ene Järvis, Ain Lutsepp, Evelin Võigemast, Eva Püssa