(Demon’s director, Marcin Wrona, died just as the film was set to debut in the U.S. I guess that’s just FYI, but I thought I should mention it.)
Demon is a Polish ghost/possession film (though I’ve read that it may be associated with Israel too?) directed by the late Marcin Wrona, who previously directed The Christening. I mention it because that film concerns a family/religious ceremony and so does Demon. In The Christening, the ceremony is a Christening (obviously), while Demon puts the viewer (at times, literally) in the middle of a wedding and reception.
Piotrek (aka Peter, aka Piotr, aka Python) arrives via car barge (it’s like, a barge, and it can hold a car) to Smalltown, Poland. During the river crossing (the Germans blew up the bridge in WWII), he sees a woman screaming in waist-deep water. This sets the tone for the film. He’s in Poland because he is getting married to Zaneta (aka Zanetka) tomorrow. His first order of business though is to meet his fiance’s father (you know what? I’m just going to quit trying to remember these names. let’s just call him Dad.) at his (huge fucking) rock quarry. Dad’s not sold on the marriage, citing the couple’s brief long-distance relationship but he gives his blessing anyway. After meeting Dad, Piotr meets up with his bride-to-be and his brother-in-law-to-be at a dilapidated farmhouse that belongs to Zaneta’s family. Piotr plans to fix the house up so that he and Zaneta can live there and she can stay in her beloved homeland. In the meantime, the barn on the property will be used for the wedding and reception. While digging later (for some reason), he finds a buried skeleton and decides not to tell anyone about it. That night he encounters a ghost and falls into the ground (like, right into it. like, it’s water.) He wakes in his car the next morning, “late for his own wedding”. Was it just a dream he had while cramped up in his car? The wedding leads to the reception, where Piotr sees the ghost again. After that, he begins acting very erratically and his behavior becomes more and more alarming as the night progresses. Revelers are encouraged (and then ordered) to continue drinking and dancing while various characters try to help/hide/remove Peotr.
Demon is effectively creepy throughout. The color palette is muted and borders on dream-like. It ranges from scenes of cold, stark greys and tans in the establishing shots to deep, rich blacks, browns, yellows, and whites at the farm. Wrona uses depth of field and focus to create a feeling of unease throughout the film. And he captures the whole spectrum of grand celebration expectations and emotions superbly. Zaneta’s parents work hard to maintain the appearance of normality, Peotr works hard to reign his behavior in (I’m ok, it’s just a little possession) to please his wife on her big day, drunken partygoers are excited and jubilant one minute, and then disappointed (or freaked out) the next. The film also portrays the madness of Peotr’s struggle against the possession to great effect (due largely to a great performance by Piotr Domalewski). Particularly, in one amazingly well choreographed scene set on the reception dance floor, which leaves the viewer anxious and disoriented. And the ambiguity of the backstory and character motivations (and general character weirdness) adds to the creepiness of it all. This beautiful, creepy film does have its shortcomings though. The story loses its protagonist about halfway through. Peotr is still there, but he is no longer the center of the tale. Problem is, neither is anyone else. Once Peotr has succumbed, the film becomes a loose ensemble piece. This is not to say that it doesn’t hold the interest of the audience. It does, but we lose some of the weight of the situation when we don’t have a single target for that interest. This, unfortunately, diminishes the emotional impact of the story.
THE FINAL CUT: Demon is a beautiful ghost/possession film that employs atmosphere and great performances (over shock and violence) for its scares. Though the story does lose focus about halfway through, it is still a artful creepout that fans of the subgenre will enjoy.