“You’ll be late to your own wedding.”
There’s an eerie specter haunting Demon, and I don’t mean the ghostly presence that pops up throughout the film. Demon’s director, Marcin Wrona, hanged himself shortly after the film premiered on the festival circuit last year. Wrona had seemed to be in good spirits during the press conference following promoting the film, described by one attendee as “wonderfully charismatic.” Wrona was also recently married to his producing partner Olga Syzmanska, a fact that seems doubly unsettling when one sees what a big part a wedding plays in Demon.
It can be difficult to separate an artist from the art, and one may be tempted to draw conclusions between the parables for mental anguish that Demon presents against Wrona’s troubled mindset at the time of his death. Or perhaps that’s just grasping at so many straws. One cannot truly know the contents of another’s heart, and mind, and a viewer should likely distance themselves from playing armchair psychologist when viewing Wrona’s final film. What’s clear, however, is that the filmmakers passing is a great loss to filmmaking, as Demon is chillingly constructed, directed with a masterful touch and deep understanding of creating dread.
Piotr (Itay Tiran) moves from England to Poland to marry his girlfriend Zaneta (Agnieszk Zulewska). One gets the sense that these lovebirds don’t really know much about each other, but that’s not going to keep them from a lavish family wedding. Zaneta’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) is wary of Piotr, but he’s a total pushover when it comes to his daughter. Not only is he throwing the couple a wedding, he’s giving them a house. True, the house is in disrepair and needs a lot of elbow grease, but beggars can’t be choosers. But perhaps they should be, because one night Piotrr uncovers something chilling hidden on the property.
Or does he? As Demon unfolds over the course of Piotr and Zaneta’s wedding night, Piotr proceeds to suffer what would appear to an outsider to be a complete nervous breakdown. But to Piotr, there’s a supernatural force at work. When giving a big speech he calls Zaneta the wrong name: Hana. He also spots a pale, beautiful, hollow-eyed woman passing through the stunned audience. Things deteriorate quickly from here.
There’s an air of dark comedy cutting through the horror of Demon. It’s clear that there’s something wrong with Pitor, but be it mental or supernatural, all Zaneta’s father cares about is how much Piotr is ruining the wedding. The father of the bride jumps through hoops to keep the alcohol flowing so the guests won’t catch on that something is amiss. And even after things go beyond the point of secrecy, and it’s clear that the wedding is in shambles, Zaneta’s father continues to insist that the party continues.
Anchoring all the madness is Itay Tiran’s spectacular performance as Piotr, who undergoes a rather dramatic transformation as the film progresses. It’s a very physical performance, with Tiran putting himself through hell before our very eyes, eliciting sympathy and loathing simultaneously.
As compelling as Tiran’s performance is, the real star of Demon is Wrona’s direction, which is subtle when it could’ve easily gone spastic. Demon is a film of fluctuating moods, but Wrona never loses his grip on the material. Along the way he stages chilling moments of quiet horror; the type of horror that seeps its way under your skin without ever resorting to a quick, cheap jump-scare. How much of Wrona’s own personal demons he put into Demon can never truly be known. But one thing is for certain: his death has silenced a fresh voice of horror cinema far too soon.