For We Are Many (2019)

The title of For We Are Many is a quote from Mark 5.9, where a man said to be possessed by multiple demons tells Jesus: “My name is Legion, for we are many” (text at the beginning of the film ascribes the quote to the equivalent episode from Matthew 8.28-34, in which version curiously those quoted words never actually appear). Demons, and the variant retellings of their myths, are the subjects of this anthology film, and what is truly legion here is the number of episodes (15, including a framing narrative) and contributing directors (12; Gavin Robertson, Mark Logan and Thomas Staunton helm two episodes each). The stories are from different parts of the English-speaking word, but as a production of Lawrie Brewster’s Hex Media, offer a pleasing preponderance of Scottish voices and Celtic spirits.

Variety is everything here. Some of the stories are just two minutes in length, others about ten. Some offer brisk sketches of a situation, others tell complete, self-contained stories. In some, demons are summoned (e.g. Mark Logan’s Father, Thomas Staunton’s The Summoned), in others they appear when boundaries are transgressed (Mitch Wilson’s Eli’s House); in some they are passed on from one person to another (Nathan Harris’ The Damned Statue), and in others still they just haunt particular places (Keith Robson’s Creek). The same mythology may inform Gavin Robertson’s Wendigo and Mark Logan’s The Slaughtering Ground, but one is a period piece, the other modern found footage (Andrew Ionides’ Three Times Around also uses a found footage format). 

The influences here are also varied. Carlos Omar de Leon’s Bad Company feels like a missionary spin on Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Paddy Murphy’s Intervention inverts familiar possession and exorcism tropes via the Morrígan. And Gavin Roberton’s PTSD-inflected Murder of Crows riffs on visual motifs from Brewster’s own The Unkindness of Ravens (2016)

What does unify all these pieces, beyond their demonic theme, is a determinedly lo-fi aesthetic. These are low-budget affairs, and the monstrous devils in them are realised mostly through costume work, makeup, lighting and practical effects rather than state-of-the-art CGI. This is part of their old-school appeal, bringing an Amicus feel to the proceedings and shifting the focus from whizz-bang spectacle to story – something illustrated perfectly by Brad Watson’s interdimensional Night Train and Thomas Staunton’s succubus-swapping Breath, both of which find simple visual means to tell weird, layered narratives with great economy. Like all anthologies, For We Are Many is a mixed bag – but it is too short, in both its individual episodes and overall duration, to outstay its welcome, and there are enough creatures here to please everybody. 

In the unnamed frame story, directed by Brewster himself, a Death-like figure introduces himself to a fugitive dying king with the words, “My name is Legion, for we are many”, and invites the king to choose from a book of demons which one he would like posthumously to protect his crown from traitors. As the king turns the pages to make his selection, each illustrated demon that is contained within prefaces a story in the film. In a sense, the film is also asking us to choose between these demonic stories and to find our favourite. Mine, however, may not be yours. For we are many – and once these different episodes have taken possession, it is hard to tell whether their overall impact is a result of one or all.  

© Anton Bitel