Director: Marcin Wrona
Cast: Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, Andrzej Grabowski, Tomasz Schuchardt, Katarzyna Herman, Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek, Cezary Kosinski, Katarzyna Gniewkowska
MPAA Rating: (for language and some sexuality/nudity)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 9/9/16 (limited); 9/16/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 15, 2016
Demon has all of the trappings of a supernatural horror movie, but it does not have any of the payoffs. This is a film with aims that reach far beyond scares. After the first 15 minutes or so, there are, in fact, no scares to be found here. It's still a horror film. It's simply that the horrors of the scenario remain unspoken. They're implied just enough that we don't need them to be said.
The story is set in the modern day, primarily at an old, rundown estate just outside a small, seemingly deserted village in Poland. The house and what we see of the town are of that kind of location that seems to whisper its history. Just a look at the decrepit edifice tells us as much as we could want to know. The appearance of a human skeleton, buried in the yard, tells us more than we would want to know.
Before the bones are found, this house is being prepared for a major renovation. Piotr (Itay Tiran), a man of Polish decent who was known as Peter in his current homeland of England, has arrived in the village to marry.
His future wife is Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), whose late grandfather owned the estate. Piotr has decided to turn it into a grand summer home for the couple and their friends, including Zaneta's brother Jasny (Tomasz Schuchardt), who introduced the betrothed couple to each other. He plans to build a large patio for parties and even knows exactly where the swimming pool will go.
Zaneta's father (Andrzej Grabowski) doesn't trust his soon-to-be son-in-law. He knows things are different nowadays, but he's the old-fashioned type who thinks that it's impossible to get to really know someone from a few video calls over the internet. If he wasn't so preoccupied with trying to make a good impression on them, Piotr should probably have the same concerns about the family into which he's marrying—not that he'd be able to get the information from them, anyway.
There is something like a code of silence in this village. One of the first views we get is from Piotr's perspective, at the climax a lengthy shot, which pans and then remains static except for a precise zoom, aboard the ferry that will bring him to town. A wailing woman stands in the water, wearing only a slip, as a paramedic tries to hold her back from going into the water any farther. We catch a glimpse of this mystery woman again, as the wedding party goes from the church to the newlyweds' estate where the reception will be held. It's just a glimpse, but she, now in full mourning attire, is at the center of a sparsely attended funeral at the cemetery on the church grounds.
What's important is not what tragedy befell this woman. What matters is that no one speaks of it. No one, indeed, seems even to notice it. The late director Marcin Wrona, who also co-wrote the screenplay (with Pawel Maslona), wants to make sure that we see it, notice it, and question the silence about it.
Prior the wedding, Piotr finds an unmarked grave on the property. The night before the wedding, he hears the unmistakable sounds of other people in and outside the house. Upon investigating, he catches yet another brief glimpse of a different woman.
In the morning, Jasny arrives at the house to find Piotr asleep in his car. The wedding goes as planned, but Piotr keeps getting nosebleeds, while his hands remain dirty no matter how many times he cleans them.
This is the point at which a conventional horror movie would start to go through the motions. We know the house is haunted, and our suspicions that the spirit has a hold of Piotr are confirmed rather quickly, as he begins to have visions and what look like epileptic seizures. The party guests assume the groom simply has had too much vodka and maybe something else, and there's a darkly comic element playing in the background as Zaneta's father decides that the party will soldier on, whether his new son-in-law is possessed by a spirit or not.
Only a few of the guests are privy to the groom's condition. A doctor (Adam Woronowicz), who asserts that he is an atheist and a rationalist, finds himself looking for the priest (Cezary Kosinski) to perform an exorcism, while the priest argues that there must be a scientific explanation for what's happening to Piotr. The groom begins to speak in tongues, and after some Yiddish passes his lips, the bride calls in an old Jewish teacher (Wlodzimierz Press). Just a bit before, the teacher was basically jeered when he gave his toast to the couple. He dared to mention the fact that he remembers the despair and terror that came to and existed in Poland over half a century ago.
Wrona and Maslona don't explicate what's happening here, but they're wise enough to know that they don't need to. We only need to hear about a bridge that was bombed by the Germans and never rebuilt. We only need the insinuation that, while Zaneta's grandfather was "as pure as the purest snow," there's only one outcome for snow that lands in the mud. We only need the teacher to tell us that he once knew a young, Jewish girl who went by the same name as the one Piotr gives under the spirit's influence.
What the filmmakers have created here is an allegory about the persistence of the past against the insidiously intentional forgetfulness of the present. The horror of Demon is not in the appearance of a spirit or a disembodied hand or a grave that was once again buried. It's in what we know but which no one is willing to say.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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