2016. Directed by Marcin Wrona.
Everyone has experienced an abysmal wedding. Open bars often lead to the salting of old wounds, while decades of familial dysfunction rear their heads in defiance of matrimonial amnesty. Marcin Wrona’s final film, Demon, takes this concept into overdrive, delivering an unrelenting allegory of loss and the bloody history of Poland that plays out during a vodka soaked wedding in which patriarchal denial, deep seeded cultural hatred, and supernatural heritage violently erode the festivities with pitch black humor and disturbing imagery.
Wrona took his own life shortly after the film debuted, and his untimely death enshrouds every aspect of the film. On the surface, Demon presents as a dark comedy that toys with horror motifs in a Bunuel like presentation of people trapped within a central location. The setup involves a controversial wedding held at a familial plot in Poland in which the groom is infected by a paranormal entity. The film’s protagonist, an English pariah to the Polish family at the center of the story, slowly begins to succumb to possession by a Dybbuk, an ancient spirit of Jewish folklore. As the groom’s behaviors continue to spiral out of control, the bride’s family members react in a variety of ways, ranging from tragic exploration of the incident to drunken dismissal, representing the various reactions of both time and memory to the holocaust and the role of Poland in the proceedings.
Itay Tiran’s performance as the doomed Piotr involves exhausting physical contortions and uncomfortable exchanges that go beyond traditional horror expectations. Demon’s unique presentation, in which elements from beyond expose horrific historical realities, takes an inverted approach to the typical demonic possession fodder. There is virtually no bloodshed or brutality and yet the film’s nihilism sustains itself for the film’s 90 plus minute duration, leaving the viewer with a depressing aftertaste from the futility of redemption in the wake of millions of souls being extinguished. Non Polish speaking viewers may lose some of the context, but the sickly manner in which the participants each flirt with the notions of protecting their perfect wedding over confronting the evils of the past is both egregious and hysterical, deliciously imparting Demon’s dark gift to the audience.
Pawel Flis’s cinematography is covered in yellowing nicotine stains and opulent speakeasy lighting that is nestled within the farmhouse’s rustic setting to create a a mood of uncertainty. The past and present intermix through fluid physicality and nonsensical dialogue that uses drunken verve to hide that which the viewer has already seen. While denial is the central artery that runs throughout, it is truth underneath the deception that is the film’s hopeless center. Demon’s corrupted wedding present is the inescapable knowledge that no one, be it inebriated guest or slowly traumatized viewer, gets out unscathed.
Available now for digital rental, Demon is a tough film with unsettling ideas that is completely devoid of hope. The antithesis of feel good entertainment, if you’re interested in an unconventional horror film that explores the atrocities of the holocaust in a satirical and frightening manner, Demon will not disappoint.