My notes on the Polish supernatural drama Demon, which screened at Fantasia.
Like La Campana del infierno (1973), whose director (Claudio Guerin) died in an accidental fall on the set on the last day of shooting, Demon is likely to be remembered as much for the shocking fact that its writer-director Marcin Wrona committed suicide in his hotel room at a film festival where this picture was being screened. It’s impossible, whatever the actual circumstances of the tragedy, not to look at the film in search of signs and omens – since its creator must have been wrestling with personal demons during its making – though it’s no more or less doom-haunted than many another supernatural drama, even if it has an unusual (if not unprecedented) narrative progression.
The last episode of Relatos Salvages (Wild Tales) and the series entry [●REC]³ Génesis also have outbreaks of horror at lavish wedding parties, which inevitably makes for a comic edge as well-dressed but drunk people get to express their real feelings at what ought to be a happy occasion – just as Robert Altman’s comedy A Wedding ends in tragedy and shock. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the first Polish horror films – the famous Yiddish-language drama The Dybbuk (1937) – also involves the disruption of a wedding by a Jewish demon. Piotr (Itay Tiran), a young Pole seemingly long-resident in London, has given up his wild ways (and nickname Pyton) to marry Saneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), daughter of traditionalist patriarch Zgmunt (Andrzej Grabowski) who hands out a schedule and insists on an elaborate ceremony and celebration in the Polish wilds. As a gift, the father gives the couple an old house which came into his family a few generations back – but Piotr uncovers a skeleton buried in front of the place and becomes possessed by the spirit of a Jewish girl, Hana (Maria Debska), who was presumably murdered about the time her former home passed into Catholic hands.
No one ever really mentions the war, but this is presumably a story of the lingering effects of the holocaust, with an old Jewish survivor who recognises Hana and doesn’t quite explain what happened to her – though we can easily guess. The first half of the film feels a bit like Altman’s take on weddings, with nice little thumbnail characters – like the seething Ronaldo (Timasz Zietek), who plainly wanted the boss’s daughter’s hand in marriage for himself – and observance of a slightly bullying quality in the generosity and hospitality extended by the bride’s family that suggests a family taint running deep. A great deal of vodka is consumed, the weather refuses to conform with the father’s schedule and it rains torrentially, Piotr hesitates during the ceremony and has to be prompted to say ‘I do’ and the bridegroom starts displaying signs of possession at the reception – which his new family at first take for epilepsy, which they think is bad enough before he starts speaking in Yiddish.
It doesn’t quite develop as a horror film, in that Hana remains an innocent even as she overwrites Piotr’s life – and she doesn’t really get revenge, just shows up a community several generations on from the crime that they still don’t feel guilty enough. It has as much comedy, from a drunken doctor(Adam Woronowicz) and a useless priest (Cezary Kosinski), as spook stuff, though the understated ending is quietly affecting and creepy. Co-written by Pawel Maslona, and based on Piotr Rowicki’s play Adherence.