S. Ansky’s archetype-establishing stage play The Dybbuk, it is the bride who is possessed by the titular spirit
on her wedding night. This time, it will happen to the groom. That is what
happens when you ignore the past in the late Marcin Wrona’s Demon (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
name was Peter, or “Python” to his old drinking buddies, but the Englishman now
goes by Piotr. He is ready to become more Polish than a Pole for the sake of
his fiancée, Zaneta. Her father has his reservations, but he will not stand in
the way of their union. In fact, he is giving them the old family country home
as a wedding present. It is there that the ceremony and reception will take
place—and what a party it will be.
impulsively excavating his proposed swimming pool, Peter-Piotr unearths an
ancient skeleton. Not wanting to put a damper on the next day’s festivities, he
reburies the remains, which will lead to some massively bad karma. Python is
clearly a little jumpy before the ceremony, but everyone assumes it is just
nerves. For a while his increasingly erratic behavior is blamed on the
free-flowing vodka. When he breaks out in fits, the father of the bride assures
everyone it must be epilepsy. However, when the clearly unwell groom starts
speaking in Yiddish, the old-timers know something profoundly bad is afoot.
of the cool things about Demon is its
cultural specificity. It would be impossible to remake this film in an American
setting without losing most of its meaning. Centuries of Polish history went
into its making. However, it is absolutely never dry or didactic. In fact,
Wrona managed to incorporate some wickedly caustic humor, while maintaining an
atmosphere of ominous dread.
the eerie vibe is further echoed by Wrona’s tragic fate. Despite Demon’s enthusiastic reception at
Toronto, Wrona apparently took his own life days after the premiere. It is a
terrible loss in many ways, including for movie lovers who will not have the
chance to see further films from the filmmaker. Indeed, this is the sort of
film that could only be hand-crafted by a massively talented artist. It is
wonderfully bold and ambitious, yet is also succeeds smashingly on pure genre
as Python, Israeli actor Itay Tiran brought the passion and commitment Wrona
needed. It starts out as a rather grounded and street smart performance, but
blossoms into a spectacle of convulsive madness. It is completely nuts, but in
a good way, almost reaching the level of Isabelle Adjani in Possession. Agnieszka Zulewska is terrific
counter-balance as the level-headed Zaneta. Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press,
and Cezary Kosinski also add salty seasoning as the doctor, teacher, and priest
who are not nearly as helpful as they ought to be.
Wrona’s unfortunate end will probably add an
additional layer of intrigue for some horror fans, but Demon needs no curse to be compelling. It ends like no horror film
has ever ended, but goodness gracious, does it ever pack a punch. As a result, Demon is easily one of the most
distinctive and unsettling genre films you will see all year. It is also a
regrettable reminder how serious and potentially lethal depression can be.
Judge not, just try not to ignore warning signs in your friends and associates.
Very highly recommended, Demon screens
this Saturday (3/26) at the Walter Reade and Sunday (3/27) at MoMA, as part of
Labels: Horror Movies, Marcin Wrona, ND/NF '16, Polish Films