‘Ridiculous… only time well tell’; well, my dear Proteus, time has indeed been able to tell: this film is ridiculous. “Demon Seed” is a film with no real ‘intelligence’ or purpose; it is a grand guignol puppet show embossed with pyrotechnics.
Nothing like an interesting or relevant context is established for the film’s events, at the beginning. We know next to nothing about any of the ‘characters’, a locale or bluntly even the computer project itself. The script shows next to no ingenuity, discarding the slightest hint of an interesting possibility when it briefly rears its head. There is a dearth of issues, situations and reactions explored here; barely an ounce of human character comes across in a film which surely needs its depiction besides a cantankerous computer, voiced by an un-credited Robert Vaughn.
Many may find this film slightly ‘disturbing’ or more rightfully mildly unpleasant and exploitative. The whole concept of a HAL-lite super-computer wanting a child is ludicrous stuff, lent farcically somber weight here. To extend this to an idea of this machine forcibly producing a child via Julie Christie is yet more worthy of ridicule. The whole thing is really not thought through in terms of consequences and the internal realism of the situation; quite how Proteus is so able to gain complete control over Christie’s abode, is merely one of many questions. The task of Cammell, who directs as if he were dragged into it reluctantly, seems barely taken up; performances are not coaxed from actors who tend to go through some very abject paces. Julie Christie is surprisingly ineffective as the ‘wife figure’ Susan Harris; emoting meekly and prissily to little effect. It’s rather an undignified role, and Christie struggles to lend it any credence; she seems very badly cast. As an actress, I’d say from the films of hers I have seen, that she tends to be more effective as a still, subtle presence (“Don’t Look Now”) or as an archetype (of swinging new metropolitan England, in “Billy Liar!”) than really as a strong character actress. She was quite a shallow Marian Maudsley in “The Go-Between”, physically charming but not getting to the heart of the character. Susan Harris is a little more than a non-character in this script, badly essayed by this statuesque actress. Next to no impression is made by semi-names such as Fritz Weaver, and Ms. Christie really cannot carry the film. It is largely a two-hander with nothing really said, between Mrs Harris and a faceless computer; certainly not an easy task for her to act this out I suppose, but then what are performers paid for? Perhaps not ideally to turn out sullen, generally toneless and indistinct portrayals such as Christie’s here.
There is no point discussing the ending, which is about the most unoriginal, cloyingly cloddish way to ‘wrap things up’ one could care to imagine. Idiotic stuff, really; that cribs from other films of the time and has the fashionable ‘shock factor’ that seems laughable today. About the only real saving grace of this film is really that it could have been worse, more infuriatingly annoying than it is; the ending really shows this. Yet, the whole is truly anemic, and special effects and gadgetry, however well applied, do not a movie make.
“Demon Seed” is not anything like a good science fiction film, and that it is at all credited with any worth is really an embarrassment to its critical benefactors. For it is simply shlock ‘sci fi’ lent mock gravity; a dulling demonstration of a bag of tricks with no purpose, credibility or strategy. Julie Christie is compromised in a rather questionable ‘storyline’ and rendered ridiculous as she barely tries with what is some very inept material.