With quality horror in a theater near you becoming few and far between, a genre fan has to look to other places to be properly scared. Funny thing is, there’s plenty of good horror cinema to be found in foreign countries and even on your favorite streaming platforms. Well, if you live in Boston or New York, you can find solace in Demon, which is playing in multiple territories nationwide. A Polish horror-comedy coupled with wit, Demon may look like a pretty straightforward possession film on the surface but oh, boy, are there layers of subtext boiling beneath this gem. Scary, funny, and exhilarating all at once, Marcin Wrona’s last film (he passed recently) will go down as one of the best horror films of the year.
Enterprising but cocky Piotr (Itay Tiran) is about to marry Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). Having just purchased her family’s old childhood home, Piotr is gearing up to do some renovations and use it as the venue for his marriage. That is until he digs up a skeleton in his front yard. Piotr’s increasingly erratic behavior on the wedding day starts to worry Zaneta’s family and when things take a turn for the weird, Zaneta’s folks make up excuse upon excuse to make the whole night go smoothly. Piotr’s honor is questioned and the local folk start spreading rumors. That’s all going on while Piotr becomes possessed by a Dybbuk (Jewish term for ghost), of course.
If that short introduction makes it sound like Demon is an incredibly busy film to watch, that’s because it is. Wrona can switch from cold and calculated drama movements to horror on a dime, all while inserting jokes aplenty across the gorgeous widescreen cinematography. The film starts out kind of cold, showing Piotr traveling in the unknown land of Zaneta’s hometown. It’s a town sleepy and seemingly besotten with grief and regret. Wrona centers on workaday folk driving ferries and front-loaders before even getting to the heart of a story. This may be construed as setting the stage but it’s also a quick and insightful look into a town and people unmoved by their ignorance and willingness to let outsiders into the fold.
Zaneta’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) is a more sinister and conniving villain than the actual ghost could ever be. In his efforts to cover up Piotr’s real sickness, he’s bringing his own family down with the ship. The pride which his family is built upon starts to crack in the most unexpected ways, and the solutions he thinks of on the fly are both hilarious and disturbing as the film ramps up to a downright mean conclusion.
There’s even some wonderful humor between everything that never slows down the story. One of the wedding guests even pulls a Sonny Corleone during the reception. Zaneta’s father keeps ordering Jasny to get all of the guests drunk off their rocker so they won’t notice anything wrong. It almost works. Everyone gets thrown into a stupor, finishing the night with drunk waltzes amongst thrown-over tables.
Demon ends on one of the most dour notes I’ve seen as of late, but there’s a point to it. No matter how much we try to cover up what is true, the veneer will crack and the results will drown you. Not sure if that’s really a metaphor on Poland’s history over the years or not but one thing’s for sure: It makes for a hell of a subject matter to explore in horror. Go see this monster of a movie, please.