in Review, Shocktober

Demon (2015)

What’s scarier than your wedding day? All those people. All the pressure to create the perfect memory. Couldn’t be more stressful, right? Now how about if there was a ghost at your wedding? A ghost that wanted your body. Not gonna lie, it doesn’t sound like a good time.

Piotr (Itay Tiran) a young man from England is engaged to be married to a Polish woman he met online named Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). The couple gathers with members of Zaneta’s family at her grandfather’s former rural estate. The family is iffy on Piotr but nonetheless insists the wedding go off without a hitch. Naturally, there’s a setback. The day before the wedding Piotr is working in the backyard with a backhoe he uncovers… a buried skeleton. That’s never a good sign.

The wedding reception takes a turn for Piotr when he starts to see visions of a dead woman in a dress (Maria Debska). Who is believed to be a Jewish woman who once lived at the estate named Hana who disappeared during the war. As the reception goes on, Piotr’s sanity slips away. The ghost won’t leave him be, he looks to a priest for answers and acts erratically towards his bride to be. Eventually, Piotr loses control of his body as Hana possesses him. Yet Zaneta’s family tries to keep the reception alive and hide Piotr’s descent into evil.

The film is a re-telling of a classic dybbuk story and an allegory for Polish-Jewish relations (thanks, Wikipedia). The film is minimal in its depiction of the supernatural but the presence of evil is strong. A big part of that is the incredible performance of Itay Tiran. In a perfect world he would have been nominated for an Oscar for this film. The amount of physicality and raw emotion he puts into this performance is reason alone to see this movie.

Another reason to see this movie is the lush visuals of the party and how they contrast with the rough terrain of rural Poland. The film has a Kubrickian quality in the strength of its visual storytelling. The rest of the movie is carried by a talented ensemble of character actors playing unusual friends and family members. Unusual because of how the presence of the ghost seems to bring out the worst in its guests. Debauchery and violence consume these people and build to a dark crescendo.

Demon was the last film of Polish writer/director Marcin Wrona, who killed himself while promoting the film in question. Wrona was 42, which is tragic considering how much he had to offer as a storyteller. Demon is a tragic story of being haunted by our past mistakes. It’s a film about families that are torn about and how people react to chaos. It’s a unique film from an artist with a unique voice. RIP Marcin.