Everything that happened after the vows on my wedding day is a bit of blur. The whirlwind reception of meet-and-greets with family and friends went by in a flash, so whenever a newly engaged couple asks me for advice about their wedding day, I tell them to remember to eat their dinner.
A wedding is the setting for director Marcin Wrona’s Demon, a satire as well as a horror film that evokes Polish history and culture to compose a remarkable genre-bending feature.
Piotr (Itay Tiran) is traveling from London to a small Polish town to meet his bride, Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). Piotr and Zaneta are in a relatively new relationship, and their quick move towards marriage has made Zaneta’s father, Zygmunt (Andrzej Grabowski) cautious. The young couple plans on living in the dilapidated house of Zaneta’s grandfather, where they are also holding the wedding in a nearby barn. Piotr discoveries human remains buried on the property, and at the wedding reception he begins acting strangely before falling ill with violent convulsions. In the middle of a drunken debacle, the family members quickly assume the worst and come to the conclusion that Piotr is possessed by an evil entity known as a Dybbuk.
While the premise may seem very reminiscent of a horror film (exorcism and supernatural films especially), this genre plays merely a supporting character in a movie more interested in utilizing compositions of culture and tradition and mixing them with history. When one of the few scary moments happens, it’s utilized more as a setup for something comedic or for nothing more than a distraction for the audience. Surprisingly, though, there are moments that are genuinely creepy in the quietest ways.
The photography is beautifully bleak; the Polish countryside is ominous with a sense of darkness clouded by fog in the distance. This aspect is completely purposeful; Demon utilizes both dark humor and not-so-subtle metaphors to evoke a narrative that displays a portrait of Polish history and a correlation to the Holocaust. It’s not hard to see the point the film is trying to make when a nonchalant comment is made about Germans destroying a bridge that hasn’t been rebuilt, or when the patriarch tells a group of deliriously drunk guests that, “We must forget what we didn’t see here.” These moments are about the still looming shadow of World War II and the effect that it holds over Europe.
Itay Tiran gives a great performance as Piotr; the slow transformation from wedding groom to a possessed person is layered with exceptional touches. Also good, and very funny, is Andrzej Grabowski, who plays the father of the bride. The performance is both manic and restrained, a character that goes to great effort to keep control of the uninhibited party while also keeping his reputation intact.
Demon is a different, albeit refreshing genre film. Not indulging in horror conventions like most films would, Demon instead deals with the effects of horrific events on people and how it changes and influences culture over time. Marcin Wrona’s talent as a director is undeniable; unfortunately, Mr. Wrona’s life was cut short soon after this film’s world premiere in 2015. Demon displays how a creative artist can use a genre to evoke emotions and proclaim something powerful.
Movie Score: 4.5/5