Synopsis: A bridegroom is possessed by an unquiet spirit in the midst of his own wedding celebration, in this clever take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk.
Release Date: September 30, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Horror
When people think about overseas horror movies, the first countries that come to mind are England, Italy, and Germany.maybe Japan or Korea. Poland is not often in the conversation, even though it has a pretty healthy horror scene. The newest Polish horror film to hit stateside is the simply titled possession film Demon.
Demon is about a British architect named Piotr (Itay Tiran from Afterthought) who relocates to Poland to marry his fiancée, Zaneta (Chemo‘s Agnieszka Zulewska). The wedding is to take place at her family home, and while helping to prepare the property for the big day, Piotr stumbles upon a bunch of bones buried in the yard. His discovery haunts him, and during the reception, he begins to act erratically. At first, his new wife and all of the wedding guests believe that he has had too much to drink. When he begins to feel sick, food poisoning is given the blame. When Piotr has a full-on seizure, people begin to suspect that he may be epileptic, or maybe even schizophrenic. The truth, however, is much worse; after disturbing the grave on the grounds, Piotr has been possessed by a Jewish demon called a dybbuk.
Directed by Marcin Wrona (My Flesh My Blood) from a script that he co-wrote with first-time feature writer Pawel Maslona, Demon is a very moody and atmospheric film. It starts out as a creepy mystery, but once that mystery is solved (and it is solved relatively early on in the film), it devolves into an exorcism movie. Not a typical, “the power of Christ compels you” exorcism movie, but an exorcism movie nonetheless. It’s far more artsy and intelligent than most horror movies, and that may turn away some audiences, but those who aren’t put off by the deep mythology and the foreign subtitles (there’s some English, but it’s mostly in Polish and Yiddish) will be rewarded with one of the most finely tuned fringe horror movies of the year.
Once it gets going, Demon is, in reality, two parallel movies that run simultaneously. There’s the horrific story of Piotr and the dybbuk that has possessed him, but it all occurs at the same time as the wedding reception, and those scenes are laced with heart and humor. Obviously, the two narratives overlap and intersect, making for a fascinating look at what is both the best and the worst day of Piotr’s life. It’s happy and horrific, triumphant and tragic.
Speaking of tragic, there’s a postscript to Demon that is sadder than anything in the film. Director Marcin Wrona was found dead in his hotel room of an apparent suicide during the Gdynia Polish Film Festival in Poland where Demon was being screened in competition. While the real details of Wrona’s heartbreaking death will probably never be known to anyone except him, the way his life ended posits a theory that maybe he had a few demons of his own.
After 2012’s The Possession, American horror cinema is no stranger to the concept of the dybbuk. Demon isn’t as straightforwardly scary as that movie, but it’s got its own, more subtle brand of fear. Demon is not overly violent or gory, and there aren’t a ton of jump scares or a bunch of scenes of nail-biting suspense. What Demon does have is an overbearing feeling of dread and an overwhelming sense of eeriness. The terror in the film is completely manufactured by the buildup of tension, tension that makes it impossible for the viewer to relax, even as the wedding guests are cracking jokes and singing songs. The horror in Demon is crafted from atmosphere instead of cheap tricks, so it winds up being a more lasting fear.
Demon is destined to be a polarizing movie. Despite its exploitative title, many fans probably won’t consider Demon a horror movie, much like many don’t consider The Witch one (another slow-burn, constant sense of unsettledness movie). Those people are wrong in both cases. Like The Witch, Demon is a horror movie. It’s just a very subliminal one, and that’s a movie that a lot of people aren’t used to seeing.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Marcin Wrona
- Producer(s): Marcin Wrona
- Screenwriter(s): Marcin WronaPawel Maslona
- Cast: Itay Tiran (Piotr/Pyton)Agnieszka Zulewska (Zaneta)Andrzej Grabowsk (Father of Zaneta) Tomasz Schuchardt (Jasny)Katarzyna Herman (Gabryjelska)Tomasz Zietek (Ronaldo)Katarzyna Gniewkowska (Zofia)Maria Debska (Hana)
- Editor(s): Piotr Kmiecik
- Cinematographer: Pawel Flis
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Marcin Macuk and Krzysztof Penderecki
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: PolandIsrael