Fantastic Fest 2015: Demon

Polish ghost story comes wrapped in tragedy

Dance with death: Peter (Itay Tarin) faces more than wedding day jitters in Polish folk tale horror Demon. (Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest)

There's a ghost hanging over this film, and it's the tragic and premature death last week of director Marcin Wrona. That fact alone means that this film, rather than being the calling card for an incredibly promising young filmmaker, becomes the poignant note by which international audiences will know his career.

His third feature is an act of conjuring, taking place over three days: before, at, and after the wedding of Peter (Itay Tarin, in an enthrallingly physical, almost balletic performance) and Zaneta (Agnieszka Żulewska). He has given up his life in London to move to rural Poland to her family village, where he is clearly trying his hardest to adapt to their ways and customs. But there is also history, buried dark and long, that creeps into the nuptials after Peter starts digging behind the farmhouse that is supposed to be their future home. The vodka flows, but his erratic behavior is revealed to be more than just the result of too much cheap liquor. It's left to Zaneta to uncover whatever truth she can find while her family tries to cover it back over.

Adapted from the play Clinging, Demon casts off its stage roots while keeping a sense of claustrophobia. The script is deliberately enigmatic, never explicitly separating out hallucination from delusion from supernatural influence. That may be frustrating to some, especially since Wrona (sensibly) refuses to unfurl any of the Polish cultural touchstones or history upon which his narrative is built.

However, even the most cursory knowledge of middle European 20th century history will allow the audience to read the swirls of mist that make up the narrative. He implies, rather than makes explicit, what the family is trying to hide. As the color palette becomes increasingly bleached like old bones, and the hurdy-gurdy jig of the wedding band is replaced by echoing strings and the low, mournful oboe, it's clear that this is a ghost story of a wedding in funeral weeds, a sardonic comedy that makes unrelenting cuts at Poland's own purposefully ignored history.

Demon screens again Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2:15pm.

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