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‘Demon’ (review)

dem-poster-v01-1Produced by Olga Szymanska
Written by Pawel Maslona, Marcin Wrona
Based on the play Adherence by Piotr Rowicki
Directed by Marcin Wrona
Starring Itay Tiran, Tomasz Schuchardt,
Andrzej Grabowski, Adam Woronowicz,
Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek,
Agnieszka Zulewska, Cezary Kosinski

 

While Demon is billed as horror, this award-winning Polish film is hardly a traditional horror movie. If you want to be scared, if you crave a body count or gore, this is not the film for you.

This twist on the legend of the dybbuk, a Jewish demon, is instead a subtle, absurdist meditation on the Holocaust.

In the final film from the late Marcin Wrona, Piotr (Itay Tiran), travels to Poland to marry Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) after a brief courtship. Her father has gifted the couple with an old house that they can fix up, including a bulldozer that Piotr immediately puts to work. As he’s playing with it alone in the yard, he digs up what looks like a skeleton. His first instinct is to tell someone, but he decides not to cast a shadow on the next day’s ceremony and simply covers the bones again.

But then strange things start happening. He sees a woman in the darkness and is swallowed up in the mud. His groomsmen find him sleeping in his car the next morning, instead of the old house, which has sprung a leak from the incessant rain.

The wedding is a joyous one, with the entire small town turning out for a night of revelry involving plenty of vodka. There are folk songs and dancing and if the groom is acting a bit odd, well, he’s not Polish, after all. Or maybe he’s just had too much to drink.

When he dramatically collapses in front of the entire group, his new father-in-law is quick to blame food poisoning to the nervous guests, but soon the rumors are spreading that Piotr is actually possessed.

It’s a dramatic, physically challenging role for Tiran, who has a spectacular breakdown scene to rival that of Isabelle Adjani’s subway freakout in 1981’s Possession (a far wilder arthouse film from another Polish director, Andrzej Zulawski.)

Despite these dire happenings, the wedding reception continues in full swing, with the guests dancing and singing as if nothing had happened. Their seeming inability (or mere unwillingness) to leave recalls Luis Buñuel’s surreal masterpiece The Exterminating Angel.

The crowd is finally dispersed on an equally surreal note when the father-in-law announces, “There was no wedding. None of you were here. I was not here.”

Luis Buñuel (and no doubt Fellini) would love the scene where the drunken guests stagger off into the dawn, passing a black-clad funeral possession walking in the opposite direction.

While there is a possession — and a priest and an expert on Jewish history present — the proceedings never devolve into a full-flown CGI-heavy exorcism as in The Unborn, a horror film that featured a dybbuk possession with laughable results.

Instead, we have only the lingering sadness that an entire Jewish culture was wiped out and that such a horrific past is never really behind us. There is the vaguest intimation that Zaneta’s late grandfather, whose stern portrait hangs on the wall of the crumbling old house, might be responsible for the body in the yard, but the skeletons in the family closet are never fully unearthed and examined.

There might be morbid curiosity in the film due to Wrona’s untimely death (he killed himself just before the film’s Polish premiere), a turn that adds a tragic end note to the film’s mournful nature.

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Demon opens on Friday, September 9 in New York and Los Angeles

 

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