Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen) may be on a plane ostensibly discussing her work at a firm which owns lucrative websites around the world, but she breaks off from conversing with one of her bosses to speak to someone in charge of another department; after a brief chat, she leaves Karen (Dominique Reymond) to get on with her lunch. However, what the woman doesn't know is Diane has spiked her mineral water, and once the flight has landed in Paris she is taken away to supposedly pick up her fancy car, leaving her assistant Elise (Chloë Sevigny) to take less impressive transport, but what the escorts actually do is make sure Karen is unconscious, then bundle her into the back of the vehicle while relieving her of a suitcase filled with important files...
From that beginning, and indeed for much of the rest of this, the impression you get is that there is a hell of a lot riding on the success of commercial websites, or perhaps this was because Demonlover was one of the last gasp of that wave of movies obsessed with making the internet come across as all sorts of exciting, far beyond however it felt in real life. Writer and director Olivier Assayas was your man bringing the pulse pounding qualities of pointing and clicking (touch screen technology not quite at its full strength yet), except this was one of those cautionary tales, for like television before it, the movies were very suspicious of the net and keen not to be replaced in the hearts of the entertainment-hungry public.
Yet unlike many other anti-internet tirades cinema conjured up, naming no Feardotcom or The Net, Assayas was fumbling towards an interesting point. This still revolved around a dark side website where you could supposedly watch some poor soul be tortured for your sexual gratification, as many of this genre did, naming no 8MM or Untraceable, but there was a provocative message beyond watching out for the evils of this world, and that was turning yourself into a commodity for the pleasure or profit of someone else online. That may mean showing up to pose and perform on a porn site if you're truly desperate, but it might also mean sharing enough of your personal details so that your very personality could be commodified, all for some faceless corporation (in the movie's case called Demonlover, hence the title) to make money off you.
For much of this, Diane thinks she is control aside from the odd note left at her desk telling her she's forgotten something, but it could be someone is pulling strings that she has not cottoned on to yet. We already know from the start that she is a top level industrial espionage agent no matter that she is working for this company, but after a while we come to realise that she is acting out a fantasy, and that fantasy may not be her own, it is in fact the audience's as she falls in with increasingly adventurous escapades. So if you ever watch a spy movie or played a spy computer game where you got your kicks out of seeing the heroine get into various scrapes, then you can understand how you're meant to react to Diane... except Assayas takes it much further.
What if a combination of sexual appeal and control becomes part of the deal? This is what Diane twigs when she notices some of the websites this company have taken over are live sadomasochistic streaming services, where hapless young women are dressed like characters from pop culture all of whom pursue a dual role of apparent female empowerment while remaining an object of male desire, so here you can get Barbarella or Wonder Woman where you want her, assuming where you want her is tied powerless to an electrified bed. This uneasy admission that there may be more to pop fiction than a fun time watching a high kicking lady, and that much of the satisfaction comes from seeing her placed in exploitative peril was blatantly there in Barbarella, but most comic book adaptations are a lot more coy about such things, leaving them for the most unpleasant recesses of fanfic. That we watch spy Connie Nielsen in a fight to the death with high flying businesswoman Gina Gershon is an irony noted in this chaotic but pointed film. Is this what female characters are for? Music by Sonic Youth.