Demon, by the late Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona, is initially unsettling as Piotr (Itay Tiran) arrives in the Polish countryside for his wedding to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). His bride’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) laments he doesn’t know Piotr very well. Over the course of the film, those words will have an even more powerful meaning.
When Piotr is doing some yard work with a tractor in the backyard of the house he and Zaneta are going to live in, he uncovers a skeleton. Piotr reburies it, but that fails to solve what becomes a big problem. Alone in the house that night, Piotr hears a noise and when he investigates, he disappears. The next day, Zaneta’s brother, Jasny (Tomasz Schuchardt) finds Piotr in his car and gets the groom ready for the wedding. Audiences know the couple will not get hitched without a hitch.
While there are no major bumps in the ceremony, during the reception things get strange. Piotr loses his wedding ring. In one fantastic sequence, he starts seeing hallucinations of a young woman named Hana while dancing with his bride and various wedding guests. Piotr also has epileptic-like seizures and starts speaking in Yiddish. What is going on? Apparently, a professor (Wlodzimierz Press) has identified Piotr as being possessed by a dybbuk; in Jewish folklore, the spirit of a dead person inhabits the body of a living one.
Demon is spellbinding in its first hour as it sets up the “curse” and its consequences, but once the dybbuk is identified, Wrona’s film unravels. The exorcism is almost less important than Zaneta’s father trying to save face with the wedding guests. He gets them drunker and drunker, and tries to convince them that everything is fine. He even gives a speech, suggesting the groom is suffering from food poisoning. It is amusing that the guests drop what they are eating in response. However, the comedy in Demon is not dark enough, and the thriller elements never seem to create much suspense, either.
Wrona may try to be balancing the realism and the supernatural, but the film is too uneven, despite some provocative moments. The stinging social commentary of a stranger disrupting a tight-knit family comes across, but it could have been stronger. Likewise, Zaneta’s loyalty to her husband, which reveals something interesting about her character, is underdeveloped. That said, there is plenty of atmospheric rain, and Tiran, gives a fantastic performance as Piotr. He inhabits a man who is self-possessed, then possessed. His transformation keeps the film watchable even if the last half hour is more confusing than engaging.
Demon opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.