*. I went into Demon not expecting much, and as so often is the case this led to my really enjoying the movie. There’s a lesson in that.
*. I knew things were going to go well with the early shot of Piotr (Itay Tiran) on a ferry crossing a river. It’s a long shot that begins with the camera panning around the ferry and Piotr then turning toward us (but who are we? we haven’t seen anyone else on the ferry) and asking if there is no bridge. Then we hear some commotion on the far riverbank that has caught Piotr’s attention. We look forward, toward it, in the same direction as the ferry is moving. Then we’ve passed the edge of the ferry and we’re continuing to zoom in at the same steady if sedate pace. The effect is to make us feel as though we’re floating off the ferry and walking on water.
*. Meanwhile, we try to decode the scene. There’s an ambulance on shore. A woman in the water screaming, a paramedic holding her back. A small boat out on the water. Has someone drowned? The woman’s child? The shot ends and there’s a shocking cut to a close-up of the woman, looking directly at us. Why? Is it something we did? Or Piotr?
*. This is a short scene, but it’s so quietly and smoothly done, especially with the way the camera pushes out ahead of us, that it feels like a bit of magic. Combined with the symbolism of Piotr being on a ferry and crossing a river to a land of death and ghosts and you’ve got a great intro.
*. Sadly, director Marcin Wrona would kill himself while on the festival circuit with Demon, upset that the film hadn’t received a prize. I think it’s a movie that might have confused people. It seems to have been promoted as a horror film, but it doesn’t go for scares and nobody is even threatened with violence. It also plays as broadly comic, telling the story of a wedding party from hell (almost literally). Everybody drinks too much and the groom is possessed by the titular spirit (actually a specifically Jewish demon known as a dybbuk). This is upsetting, but the bride’s father isn’t so much unnerved as he is desperate to hush everything up and arrange an immediate annulment. Meanwhile, everybody keep drinking!
*. The ending also left a lot of the story hanging, requiring the viewer to fill in some pretty big blanks. For what it’s worth, my understanding is that Hana died as the result of some kind of local pogrom, after which her farm was possessed by Zaneta’s grandfather. Officially Hana “disappeared” but I assume that’s her corpse Piotr discovers. She then possesses Piotr as a kind of revenge, though she doesn’t act like a vengeful spirit. I never had the sense that this was a horror spin-off of the Jewish revenge fantasy (covering films from Marathon Man to Inglourious Basterds).
*. I guess the point at the end is that in possessing Piotr she has somehow “married” the boy she ran off with (or was abducted by?) when a young woman. That’s the meaning of the marriage photo anyway, an item which seems lifted from The Shining. Finally, I’m assuming Hana’s skeleton is dug up and then thrown in the car that is disposed of in the quarry pit. As for Piotr/Hana . . . that ferry has docked on the other side.
*. By being so vague Demon leaves itself open to interpretation on various levels. (1) Piotr is a bad match, slowly revealing himself as distant, then violent, before finally running off with another woman. (2) Piotr is an outsider representative of the “new” Europe that’s ruining everything in Poland. (3) The whole village has some shared consciousness of historical guilt that Zaneta’s father, a corrupt Bottom, tries to write off as a collective dream at the end that he urges everyone to move on from and forget.
*. All of this is quite interesting, but it left me thinking that more thought went into these messages and various meanings than into creating a suitable vehicle for them. As lovely as Demon is to look at, and it really is a nicely turned out production, the surface story just isn’t that gripping. Most of the time I was trying to see through it rather than following it for its own sake. There is also, and this may be something that is being lost in translation, a discordant mix of tones that I don’t think worked. It needed to be either funnier or creepier, or both.
*. That said, there is something about Demon that stays with one. It’s a slightly odd, authentic, beautifully photographed little movie. The colour scheme could be boiled down to the word “drab,” but it’s a drab with feeling and texture in every part of the frame. Meanwhile, there are no jump scares because it’s not a movie that jumps out at you. It just slowly draws you in and leaves you wondering where that is. Somewhere on that ferry out on the river no doubt, between past and present, life and death.