Demon (2015)

Poland
Writer & Director: Marcin Wrona
Currently available on Shudder.

Piotr (Itay Tiron) and Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), the newly weds

Demon is one of the most chaotic and satisfyingly realistic wedding movies in existence. With the exception of the whole demon possession thing. There are terms and translations that will give away key themes in the film, so in the interest of avoiding that, we’ll mostly focus on the narrative technique.

This film takes no great pains to conceal its core narrative. In fact, the story is not so different from any other possession tale, though it does provides some twists and turns and leaves the audience with more than a few questions at its conclusion. The ambiguity is more rewarding than frustrating in this case.

While the story takes place largely during a single night, there is enough background content and subtle references to warrant a second watch. The muted palette becomes oppressive, and without any clear indication via costuming or lighting as to who is evil and who is basically good, Demon becomes less about the nature of black and white morality and more about the human side of its events.

Wrona’s final film touches on the stigma surrounding chronic illness, religion, and even Polish national identity. Two of its strongest moments are conversations between side characters about the nature of Poland “before”, first from a Christian Polish perspective, and later from a Jewish Polish perspective. The wounds in the family and the poles in attendance at the wedding become more evident as the evening wears on.

Andrej Grabowski in his role as father of the bride during the final speech in the film.

The final scenes in the film become distorted and create questions that will never quite be answered satisfactorily. While we are not provided the most satisfying possession conclusion, the muted colors and surprisingly flat palette of wedding guests smashing together in various formations allows for conversations about nationhood and just enough hints at personal drama to provide interest.

Demon was a striking and promising feature from a director with a clear vision. Co-written with director Pawel Maslona and employing several rising stars in Poland, the film is often billed as a purely Polish production. This adds a layer of complexity to an already sensitive topic: the film touches on the identity and place of Polish Jews in post war Poland, and employs an Israeli actor in its primary role to do so.

While it is a fully satisfying possession story, the cut up third act brings out conversations surrounding the collective guilt of a country who historically othered some of its own while employing cast and crew from those backgrounds. The movie was supposed to show in Israel with a talk from the director and has been discussed as an Israeli-Polish production. But there is a dark cloud over this movie that tempts a wide variety of interpretations.

Wrona, who was only 42, was found hanging in his hotel room in Gdynia before premiering his film at a local festival. The movie had been his second to show at TIFF just days before. There have been many speculations surrounding the death, including alcohol abuse and depression. According to various sources, some of dubious credit, Wrona’s father played the role of an exorcist and took him to an abandoned house as a child for the exorcism of a 20 year old man.

Earlier works by the director deal with his father’s abusiveness and energy healing work. It is easy to see this background as part of the influence for Demon.

Whatever the full story is, it’s a tantalizing look at what could have been for this director on the rise. But it is also a taste of the conversations and quality of films coming out of Poland. Truly a market to watch so far as horror, or any cinema really, goes.

After this, watch: Honeymoon (2014), Melancholia (2011), The Innkeepers (2011)

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