Fire City, despite sounding as if it’s about rampaging dragons, is actually the story of the demons that live among us, feeding on human misery, and what happens when suddenly, one day, humans stop feeling miserable. How do demons cope in a world where humans do not feel fear, pain, anger, despair? The answer is not well.
The story takes place in an apartment building inhabited by demon drug-dealer Vine. He keeps the other demonic residents of the building satisfied while keeping a close eye, or ear rather (he eavesdrops), on the miserable human inhabitants – including a paedophilic rapist and his young victim.
After getting knocked out upon discovering a demonic murder scene, Vine wakes one morning to surprising scenes of harmony and contentment among the humans – they are no longer radiating misery. The other demons are alarmed; they can no longer feed on the human residents as they are ‘infected.’ When Vine leaves his building to take a turn around the block he discovers that it is he who is ‘infecting’ humans.
When Vine returns, furious, the Interpreter, a prophetic demon also living in the building, decrees that no demons can leave. From there, predictably, the demons start to unravel, attacking and killing one another over the threat of starvation. Vine meanwhile bonds with Sarah, the child who had been raped by her stepfather. His humanity is clear as, ironically, he reveals his demonic visage to her and opens up, touched by her reaction to him.
Shortly afterwards, upon drawing a physician card from her tarot deck for Vine, the Interpreter rages that he has compassion for humanity and tells him he must kill Sarah to heal his heart and thus break the humans out of their happiness. At this point I felt a little disappointed; surely the film wasn’t going to end on such an utterly unoriginal note. The next several scenes did nothing to reassure me, they consisted of Vine trying and failing to hide the girl and then subsequently being prompted to kill her in a completely stereotypical set up of Sarah tied to an operating table while a knife is held over her chest.
Thankfully after Vine passionately refuses, the story then changes track with an illusion and time shift. Sarah disappears on the operating table and Vine finds her dead and buried in the basement, the result of attempting to flee the rapist. Throughout the second half of the film a shadowy figure appears behind the demons at intervals and Vine now confronts it. In a rush of love for humanity Vine pleads ‘don’t destroy them...they are perfectly flawed.’ The creature responds that the experiment they have all been part of is over.
From there the ending is pleasingly positive, Vine saves Sarah from her paedophilic stepfather via the aforementioned time shift and the narrative skips forward a couple of weeks or so to tell us the rapist has left town and Vine has taken on a paternal role with Sarah. The last scene has Vine on the roof of the building, his leathery wings outstretched, before he flies off to investigate a crime (again predictable, but I didn’t mind this so much, I like a happy ending).
Something that captures attention straight off in the film is that the demons sport human faces/bodies when around the human characters and their demonic forms – the prosthetic make up work is truly excellent – when amongst their own kind or alone. This concept is later explained by Vine to Sarah, that ‘if it doesn’t make sense, they [humans] don’t see anything at all.’ As the film goes on, this lets viewers know whether human characters are going to be in a scene or not before this is properly established.
I really like the angelic symbolism with Vine. Although he is a demon there at times when he’s almost more like an angel, his demonic visage aside. He appears to be the only one of the demons with wings; he keeps an eye on the human residents of his building; he becomes a guardian figure for Sarah, and he cuts a majestic figure in the final scene with his wings outstretched, off to help right wrongs. The predominant red colouring of this final scene mixes the metaphor though –a reminder that Vine remains a creature of Hell and a visual shout out to the title of the film.
If you don’t mind predictability and some genre stereotyping then this is worth a watch. The plot could be better but I found Vine an endearing character, despite lacking originality, and I enjoyed the film as a whole.