By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Almost every review of Demon has approached this seminal, spectacular film from the context of the suicide of Marcin Wrona, its too young, so promising director. I don’t think it’s right to view this film that way, right in the sense of either accuracy or fairness. The brilliance of Demon, for all the torture and psychological turmoil one can read into it, is such that it stands on its own, and hopefully was something Wrona took immense pride in.
In Demon, a wedding in the Polish countryside starts to take an unsettling tack when the bridegroom begins to display signs of at least insanity, and perhaps something far more. Could it be related to the bones he dug up the day before, unmarked and forgotten?
It’s also easy to draw out themes of the Holocaust, which unsurprisingly does figure prominently in the plot, themes of how you can never bury sins of the past, how they always resurface. And indeed Demon is rife with such symbolism, such as the bride’s Polish parents insisting on the wedding celebration continuing even as the groom screams and transforms and many go out to try and dig up what he uncovered, to reverse the curse somehow maybe, even the bride. That the film ends in another round of burials and demolitions, another round of covering up of the unsightly, speaks to the strength of that theme.
However, Wrona has more on his mind than just this spine of a them, or the extremely effective horror he crafts around it. The film has streaks of ironic humor and little beats of life, particularly as it begins, and Wrona deftlly makes us care for these characters, and creates a world so well lived in and realized with a minimum of strokes, not just to juxtapose against the terror to come, but to set up an arc that becomes something bittersweet, elegiac, with loss and memory and guilt and nostalgia interwoven, inseparable.
This spell is created through his incredible control of tone, and the steady build of tension and unrest, especially through sound design and Marcin Mucuk and Krzysztof Penderecki’s unsettling string score that will stab your composure like knives. Pawel Flis’s sharp, evocative cinematography helps in this regard as well; so much depth of field, so perfectly framed, lit, and colored, a creeping mist seeming to suffuse every scene even in stark sunlight.
Finally, the acting cannot be ignored, and is all excellent, uniformly so. Agnieszka Zulewska as the uncomprehending bride is extremely effecting and realistic, but her groom, Itay Tiran is operating at another level, one that elevates this to something truly great. His channeling of the spirit that possesses him is impossible to tear your eyes away from, one of the very best performances of the year… at least.
Demon ends with the bride’s father, exhausted, proclaiming “I’m dreaming you. And you’re dreaming me”. Such a dream, beautiful and terrible. It’s tragic Wrona will never spin us another.
Demon (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for digging or excavating
Take a Drink: for freaking out about digging or excavating
Take a Drink: whenever somebody gets wet
Do a Shot: for whenever the ghost shows up, in any guise