Polish-Israeli chiller Demon (2015) is a refreshing take on the possession subgenre and one of the most remarkable pieces of cinema I have had the pleasure of watching this year. If, like me, you find possession films to usually be either underwhelming or more of the same-old, same-old, I highly recommend that you make an exception for this movie. From Marcin Wrona’s masterful direction to the ensemble cast’s gripping performances, to the film’s hypnotic atmosphere and the tragic group of characters involved, Demon is a masterpiece.
Marcin Wrona adapted the screenplay with Pawel Maslona from the play Clinging, also translated as Adherence, by Piotr Rowicki, and the majority of the film takes place at a house wedding. Demon never feels like a play that was merely filmed, however. The family home provides for a claustrophobic tone but wide shots with long, winding roads, along with important scenes that take place outside the house, build a fully cinematic world.
Piotr (Itay Tiran) has moved from London to his fiancee Zaneta’s (Agnieszka Zulewska) fixer-upper family home in rural Poland, where they will have their wedding and plan to raise their family. Piotr is eager to begin renovation on the property, and as he works with a front loader on the eve of his wedding day, he makes a chilling discovery in the ground. He decides to cover what he found but later finds that reburying secrets is not so easy.
On the wedding day, Piotr’s mental state slowly begins to deteriorate, especially after a petrifying sight causes a slip of his tongue. What follows leads to acts that range from questionable to maddening from Zaneta’s stubborn, prideful father (Andrzej Grabowski) and various wedding guests including a bewildered priest (Cezary Kosinski), a heavy-drinking doctor (Adam Woronowicz), and a perceptive university professor (Wlodzimierz Press). Beliefs are called into question and senses of reality are challenged.
Unlike most other horror films with a claustrophobic setting, most characters in Demon – in this case, wedding guests and medical professionals, for example – are free to leave at any time. Yet many of them do not. The stormy weather may keep some from leaving, curiosity may keep others there, and for some, the promise of more free alcohol and food is enough to extend their stay while odd occurrences take place. It is the stubbornness and hubris of the bride’s father, however, that keeps some characters in danger, as he refuses to admit that anything is out of the ordinary, and that matters cannot be handled by family members. He practically demands that guests remain at the obviously doomed wedding celebration.
Marcin Wrona, who died by his own hand during a film festival in which Demon appeared in competition, built a steady sense of gloom and dread in the movie, easing the mood a bit at times with some comical moments at the festive wedding. He left enough open for viewers to wrestle with some ambiguity during the proceedings, as well. Cinematographer Pawel Flis does an extraordinary job, with lengthy shots that don’t shy away from the bleakness of the surroundings and the activities. The acting is exceptional, from stars Itay Tiran as the tormented groom, Agnieszka Zulewska as the frightened and confused bride, and Andrzej Grabowski as the self-serving father of the bride, to the supporting cast members.
Demon doesn’t look to turn stomachs with graphic displays, nor does it rely on special effects and jump scares. This challenging film is designed to get inside your mind and under your skin. I have thought long and often about Demon since I saw it, and I look forward to rewatching it again soon. Arthouse horror fans will find much to enjoy here, but cinephiles of every stripe should give Demon a try.
Demon screened as part of the 20th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) in South Korea (July 21-31, 2016).
Demon: (4.5 / 5)