In a day and age where we see dozens (upon dozens) of possession films released every year, Marcin Wrona’s Demon manages to stand out as a truly special cinematic experience. The film consistently defies expectations from beginning to end by going against genre conventions, playing up the scenario’s more darkly comedic elements, and creating a haunting allegory that reflects how even though we often think we can bury our past, it will always find a way to rear its ugly head. Demon also soars due to the stunning performance from Itay Tiran, whose harrowing transformation is a marvel to behold.
At the beginning of Demon, we meet Piotr (Tiran), who arrives in a small village in Poland to marry the lovely Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) and meet his new family for the very first time. The plan is for the lovebirds to get hitched on the estate of Zaneta’s family, a place once owned by her grandfather and now hosted by her proud parents for the all-day affair. Shortly before their nuptials, Piotr discovers human remains hidden on the property, and while he initially wants to pretend that he found nothing, the truth soon comes out when he begins acting erratically during the wedding festivities. As suspicions rise amongst the attendees, Zaneta’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) does his best to keep the peace amongst the chaos (“More dancing! More vodka!”) and figure out how to deal with his new son-in-law, who may very well be possessed by an evil force that wants to use Piotr as a vessel into the realm of the living.
While it may be described as a horror movie with comedic undertones, that’s not necessarily an accurate summarization of Wrona’s thematic achievements in Demon. His final film deftly maneuvers between genres with great ease, making for an unforgettable mix of drama, romance, absurdism, and the supernatural while also touching on some of Poland’s socio-political issues. Overall, though, Demon is a compelling mystery that washes over you with a foreboding haze of uncertainty that Wrona successfully sustains. I love that, several days after seeing it, certain aspects of Demon are still knocking around in my head.
Early on in Demon, there’s a scene in which Piotr, a total stranger to everyone and everything around him, is confronted with the image of a bereaved woman screaming out in agony. You’re not sure just how she will fit into his journey, and I’m not sure if we fully know by the conclusion of Demon, either, but it’s a haunting omen that brilliantly sets the stage for the heartbreak to come for Piotr and his betrothed.
Wrona does a fantastic job of building towards Piotr’s eventual collapse and showing how it affects Zaneta and her proud family, who would rather hide away her sickened new husband than have it ruin the fun of the wedding they’re hosting. And for as much as this is a tragic event, especially for Zaneta (and Zulewska is wonderful as a love-struck bride who will stop at nothing to save her beloved), much of Demon’s comedic elements come from the bride’s family’s absurdly insensitive response to both Piotr’s predicament and the fact that there are likely bodies buried all over the family estate.
We’ve seen weddings explored as a chaotic setting in cinema numerous times before, but there’s something uniquely compelling and wholly original about what Wrona creates with Demon. It’s not going to be a film for everyone, and if you don’t enjoy ambiguity with your tales of terror, this may not be your particular cup of tea. To me, though, Demon is a storytelling triumph and an enchanting swan song for Wrona. It’s a film with many layers just waiting to be peeled back and explored, and it manages to do something new in a subgenre that doesn’t often see unique approaches. As a fan, I couldn’t ask for more.
Movie Score: 4/5